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Photography in the Sign Business

Wikipedia says that “… the adage, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. It also aptly characterizes one of the main goals of visualization, namely making it possible to absorb large amounts of data quickly”. Interesting enough, this adage was coined in 1911. Not much has changed in this regard, but the means and methods certainly have.

I have been in the sign business for a long while; as a shop brat, then stock boy, then, after completing college, the last 36 years with Bill Moore & Associates. We have all witnessed a lot of changes in the tools we use during that duration. One of the areas that has changed is in photography. Of all the tools we have to perform our work, perhaps the importance of photography is the most under-appreciated.

Regardless of your niche in the sign industry, photography has probably played a part. Survey photos, shop photos, completion photos all provide valuable record keeping and an invaluable marketing advantage. Over the years, I’ve seen cameras go from simple Brownies, to the convenience of Polaroid Land and Instamatic cameras, to the emergence of more compact and user friendly 35mm single lens reflex cameras, to finally arrive at the present with sophisticated yet simple digital cameras. Today we can send photos from our cell phones for real time gratification.

The quality and purpose of the images produced have improved along the same curve. We have binders of black and white or faded color photos of projects competed in the early 60’s. We have curled and discolored Polaroid prints from the early 70’s. We have sleeves filled with Kodachrome slides from the 80’s and 90’s. Now we have gigabytes of computer memory dedicated to storing digital photos. I can sit at my desk and pull up a picture of any project at any stage, send or receive the same in an email. No film, no developing, no printing, no cost.

Of course, over the years, the expectation we have of photographs has matured as the tools have. Photos have taken on a far more prolific place in our day-to-day activities. We’re surrounded by visual images, not only at work on computer screens, but in our cars, on our phones, emails, publications and while browsing the web. Sites like Flickr , Facebook and Instagram have elevated photography to new levels of communication and quality. Software applications like Photoshop and Lightroom have given us the ability to manipulate an average picture into a spectacular picture, or even to a rendering of a proposed display. Google Earth allows us to visit remote sites and then Google Street allows us to survey them, capturing screen shots for the record.

It is this expectation that is oftentimes under-realized in the sign industry. We have hundreds of installation vendors around the country and I am oftentimes mystified at their relative ignorance of the importance of a comprehensive photo survey or a portfolio quality final photograph. Sure, some of them get it, and are good at it, but for the most part we have to educate our vendors on how to take a good, informative picture. Whenever possible, we will go out ourselves for this purpose, just so we can document it right.

In the meantime, the expectations of our national and regional customers have increased, mostly because they know the tools are there and they expect us to be at the front of the technology. We meet every six weeks with one of our major national accounts and at each meeting we call in all the executives, V.P.’s, designers; most of those vested in the process, at which time we present all the projects that we’ve completed since the previous meeting in a slideshow. This has a huge effect on the way our services are perceived. Of course, a poor picture does not reflect well on that perception. Well executed pictures can make the most ordinary storefront look extraordinary. Skip Moore, President Bill Moore & Associates Graphics Inc.

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