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On a Wing and a Prayer

November 7, 2017

'on a wing and a prayer' by David Morris



65 million years after the dinosaurs...


February in Toronto always brings about a damp cold, the kind that carries deep in your bones. Fashionable scarves, toques and mittens are layered up to shield you from the dark, grey days - the type of days that result in hitting your snooze button 12 times and just refusing to get out of bed to drag yourself to the office... but February 2016 was different. 


A week before, our contact at Airbnb had reached out asking if we could capture images across 25 cities - globally.


“Yes,” we said.

“Can you capture a ‘day in the life’ in 691 neighbourhoods within these cities,” she asked.

“Yes, of course.”

“Can you deliver the whole project in six weeks?”



Pause. Huddle. Plan. Commit.


“Yes, of course we can,” we replied. And we were confident we could.


We immediately began reviewing our roster of photographers. What cities was our roster deep enough to meet demand and where would we need to begin on-boarding? This wasn’t just a numbers game, this was an exercise in ensuring we could communicate the exacting demands of the creative brief to our photographers. Could we ensure that our photographers had what they needed? Could we deliver to our client what was promised? 


Getting images in front of Airbnb as quickly as possible was our primary goal. Feedback loops had to be tight to ensure reshoots or any changes in direction could be made in near realtime. Logistically, there was a lot going on. At the time it pushed our systems, processes, and tools to the limit.


Creative Vision. Relevancy. Accuracy.


From these three primary driving factors cascaded the requirements. Understanding, translating—both vision and language, and communicating globally, across many time zones to our photographers on the ground, was our life for the first few hundred hours after going live.


A few weeks into the project, and without even really noticing, the Creative Services team managing the project, slowly made the transition from a strained, tired and huddled group, to a warm and raucous team. Despite the many days, nights and terrible takeout, the team was more energized than ever. Seeing what we were actually doing was inspiring; not just managing a custom photography project, but seeing the world as it is, right now, all at once, from the eyes of a local, was a reward our creative team of individuals had not considered at the outset.


In a post by Bridget Harris of Airbnb, our contact, she describes this time like this:


“In the spring of 2016 I felt I was able to travel to all 691 neighbourhoods across these 25 cities while sitting (and sometimes standing) at my desk reviewing the images. In my mind’s eye, I can see clearly the faces of these communities, images of love, culture and experiences. As a result, I personally have a newfound desire to travel to all of them.”


November 2017 has rolled around and fashionable scarves, toques and mittens are beginning to line the streets of Toronto again - most of these belong to random commuters and average salarymen. But some of those scarves, hats and mittens belong to the the hardworking 500px employees that brought this vision to life last year, working on our most demanding, large scale custom photography and production project undertaken to date at the time. 


This project is no longer the largest, the most complex, or the most creatively satisfying the 500px Studio team has undertaken, but it was the first time we felt we had something special. While many things have changed for the better since this project, we often go back to it when we need to lift our team up, realign behind a common goal, or believe we can do something that has never been done before:


“Remember the Airbnb neighbourhoods project?”

“Yes, of course I do.”




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500px is the leading online network for photographers to discover and share incredible photos, gain global exposure, and get paid for their work and skills.