Is there hope for the annual-reports market?

Technology may have opened up new possibilities for photographers, but it’s also decimated a number of previously reliable markets. Printed annual reports, for instance, have taken a hit because more and more companies are opting for PDFs and thus are much less interested in spending money on original photography. Kind of makes you wonder: Is there hope for the annual-reports market?

Vincent Laforet thinks there is. For more than a year now, he’s been talking up the possibilities of doing dual stills/HDSLR shoots as a way to inject new life into the annual-report category. And recently, he got a chance to prove what could be done. Commissioned by VSA Partners, Vincent shot video vignettes plus stills for USAA’s annual report, which was made public this spring.

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Two of Vincent’s photos from the USAA annual report:

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“Greg Sylvester, the art director at VSA, came to Stockland Martel and me saying they’d love to try and do an annual report with both video for the Web and stills for the printed report,” Vincent explains. “That was a really big deal for me because I had judged the Art Directors Club competition with the head of VSA the year prior, and I remember him telling me that printed annual reports were almost dead in the U.S. From a photographer’s point of view, it was yet another example of ‘Here goes another piece of our industry.’

“This project.” he continues, “was a big watershed moment in terms of getting a client to do a hybrid shoot. I’ve been talking about the potential to do that for close to a year and a half now.”
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USAA, a San Antonio–based company offering insurance as well as banking and investing services for members of the military and their families, had chosen a theme of for its annual report—“Doing the right thing”—and Vincent’s mission was to bring this to life. It was a big project, spanning three weeks, involving a crew of seven to 10 people, and resulting in several thousand stills (roughly seven of which were used in the printed portfolio) and seven vignettes.

The vignettes were, of course, key. Three of the seven are about USAA members and how they have turned the desire to do the right thing into action—including the story of an Army doctor in Killene, Texas, who reenlisted at age 64; a man who retired from the Air Force and now runs a social services agency in San Antonio; and a couple who successfully persuaded USAA to make membership available to all veterans. There’s also a video of USAA’s leaders and three vignettes featuring USAA employees.

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VSA and USAA had established ahead of time who would appear in the videos and what the stories were, but the storyboarding was not fleshed out. “It was very organic,” recalls Vincent. “I work on commercial gigs, where you have an exacting storyboard down to the last shot. But with this project, we’d go into people’s homes and in one day shoot an entire vignette. We’d shoot both the B roll as well as the sit-down interview in an 8- or 10-hour period. It was a tremendous amount of work.”

Knowing that the shoot would be intense, Vincent assembled an experienced crew from the motion-picture industry. His steadycam operator had 20-plus years experience, and his focus puller had more than 16. “These were people who were used to working on the fly and not rehearsing,” he notes. “Had we done this with a greener crew, it would have been a disaster. The steadycam operator would hit the shot on the very first take almost every time. Because everyone was experienced, we were able to shoot in a documentary fashion.”

Vincent shot with a Canon 1D MKIV and Canon 5D MKII, which allowed him and his team to be extremely nimble and have a smaller footprint than the average crew. “With these Canon cameras, we were able to travel with much smaller and lighter gear, and they gave us this incredible motion-picture look. The vignettes had a very filmic quality, and that’s exactly what the client asked us to do in the first place. I think we hit that one out of the park.”

It will be interesting to see if other corporate clients pick up on the concept of using hybrid video/stills shoots for their annual reports. With motion becoming increasingly essential to the advertising market—and the public at large so comfortable communicating via video (in fact, USAA has posted Vincent’s videos at its YouTube channel)—it’s hard to see why they wouldn’t at least consider it.

“This project was a chance for me to connect the dots and show there is a future for annual reports and photography,” Vincent says. “It’s just evolving.”

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There’s a downloadable PDF of the USAA annual report here, as well as links to the vignettes. To read about the shoot from steadycam operator Charles Papert’s perspective, go here.

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