This post is dedicated to Larny Mack, Photographer Extraordinaire. Larny joined the North County Mind Masters group in 1999, his last meeting was May 14th, 2015. His dedication and consistent focus on each of the members of the group kept us knowing he had our backs. Even as he went through chemotherapy over the last 8 months he showed up every week. This article was written several years back by one of our former members, it will help you see the impact he had.
By H. Skip Weitzen, author Hypergrowth
I have often wondered how ad agencies and marketing directors pick photographers to communicate company images and tell their stories. At a recent business meeting, I sat next to Larny Mack, a 40-year veteran photographer who has snapped more than 125,000 photographs over his illustrious career. I asked Larny about this process and he took me inside his world of corporate story telling.
Larny Mack was raised in a photojournalism household. His father was a professional photographer and his mother was a
writer for the New York Times. Larny picked up his documentary style of story telling over many dinner table discussions as he heard his parents talk of some local event or election then look to him saying , “I need a photo that will sweeten up this story.”
“Every picture tells a story. If it doesn’t, it fails,” reflects Mack on early memories of his father’s mentoring. “So every photo I took starting at age 13, I stuck in my father’s face and asked, ‘What do you think?’”
From Problem-Solver to Story Teller Larny Mack spent years as a corporate problem-solver. “My customers would come to me with a product or service, not knowing how to relate it to their customers. I solved that problem by finding something unique to feature in the photograph. This usually occurred when I stepped inside of their world, then expanded it.”
Quite often, photographic problemsolving is a process of eliminating what clients don’t like. “There may be dozens of discarded photographic ideas required to discover the David inside that chunk of marble,” declares Mack.
Secrets of a Story Teller Photographic story telling is more challenging than the process of photographic problem solving according to Mr. Mack. “With story telling, I have to know the entire story that will be told before I begin the shoot. If I don’t know what the story is ahead of time, then how will I know when I reach Chapter 3 of that story?”
Mack begins by telling the story first to himself, “I’m gifted with the ability to look at a product and know how the typical person in the marketplace will react to it. I then think of a distinct way to relate the story of that product. Clients frequently tell me that even in their wildest dreams, they never would have thought of presenting their products that way.”
Larny then let me in on his story telling success secrets.
Secret #1 Anticipate the Story
Larny won his first award in photography at the age of 16 when he captured a particular moment that told the story of a championship football game. With his craft well established at an early age, Mack operates outside of the technical aspects of his trade.
“I don’t have to constantly think about F-Stops or shutter speeds because that’s second nature to me. I spend most of my time looking for the decisive moment…the right place at the right time. Knowing when to click is always about anticipating the story. At that game, I was looking for moments that would communicate its emotions.”
When Larny takes on an assignment, he realizes that clients operate inside their own worlds. “It’s my job to understand their world, what they want to say and to whom. Then, I determine a fresh or unique way to communicate it.” To find what’s unique and distinctive doesn’t mean breaking the rules. It can be as simple as expanding the bubble. “My expansion is learning about their business. Theirs comes from allowing me in.
Secret #2 Find What’s Unique & Distinctive
Telling a great story requires me to look for that unique and distinctive point of view. My clients are all deeply involved in their own projects, so I try to provide them with a fresh perspective.
One of my clients, a very high end custom home builder contracts with me to produce photos of each
project. The photos show his clients the progress being made on their project. My real client, or the one I’m telling the story to is actually the homeowner not the builder. The 2 carpenters are a good example of communicating to the homeowner, not only the progress of the construction project but the overall mood of the project and the craftsmen working there.
The home owners see a “Happy & productive site” . This maintains the high level confidence and security the owners have in the builder, my client. If I had asked the builder “Do you want workers in the pictures, do you want them smiling? He would have looked at me like deer in headlights. That’s ok it’s not his job to figure this out, it’s mine!
I will integrate into their story, my life experiences, client lessons and cutting edge technologies. But I always start the story by viewing it from behind their desk. I can’t force a story, yet I expect that it will usually look very cool. So I hang back and watch for the unique and distinctive angles of the story to emerge. Then I start clicking.”
Secret #3: Do Whatever It Takes
Larny’s photographs take people beyond the surface of the print. He doesn’t just produce 2-dimensional pictures. Mack delivers emotions, an image and a brand.
“For me, a workday is defined as ‘whatever it takes.’ Since I know how the story will end, I will work all day or night just to capture that unique moment. Sometimes what clients want, they can’t have in practical or financial terms. That becomes my opportunity to say, ‘Maybe we can’t do that, but what about this?’ Then I present another possibility or a variation on the theme of what they were asking for.” “The Adopt-a-pet program was a unique challenge. We needed a shot that would quickly get the viewers attention. Additionally, the client was bored with the typical “cute dog or cat in lap” shot and was hoping for something different. Some may know how time-consuming and frustrating photographing animals can be. So I didn’t consider this challenge lightly. Also being an organization that runs largely on donations they had a very small budget. However, they had a list of already adopted pets and their owners so I suggested that we all get together and shoot pictures of the new “happy families”. The outcome was happy parents, free models, free animal handlers and I got the shot (actually 6) I wanted. Oh, and I forgot, the client was absolutely ecstatic. “
Communicating beyond the image
A critical part of Mack’s job as a corporate story teller is to draw out exactly what his clients are looking for. Most people have a vision in their head of how something is going to look, but often they can’t communicate it.
“There are times when a home builder wants me to create an image of a room, but they honestly can’t describe the mood or texture. We acknowledge this and the client lets me discover what the room really “feels” like then produce an image of that feeling. At the end of the day, when the reader of an ad says, “Wow! I can see myself relaxing in that room,” then we’ve succeeded in taking them beyond the surface of the picture and inside the world of that room the builder designed,” says Mack.
And just what is Larny’s primary job as corporate story teller? Mack reflects, then states it confidently, “It is to help each client feel confident that I understand their world.”
Larny Mack operates from a commercial studio located in the old downtown of Oceanside, Calif. You can view more of his work at www.larnymack.com.