“No one told us we would have to buy the pictures today.” The man said as he reached for his wallet. “That isn’t right.”
I just smile at him. It’s a comment that is ever present, like I’m going to a Professional Photographer next week or I just got back from a cruise or My daughter is getting married soon. The same old complaints and excuse that never seem to change.
Over the past couple of years I’ve gotten used to the whole Shoot N Show thing. I’m still not in love with it. I don’t have that killer instinct that makes me want to take someone’s rent money so they can buy portraits from me like the Passers I worked with in the Glory Days of ten years ago. But I can sell my portrait to people who want to buy them. I still have no clue how to make people want to buy.
In the old days, I would always work with one or two other people. On slow days we would share war stories. We would sit around and talk about how much the Company sucked. We would wonder what it would be like to run our own shop and make our own rules and keep the profits for ourselves. I’ve done a few shoots on my own and done ok, but I’m not a door knocking and cold calling kind of guy. Now I work alone, and I’ve kind of gotten used to not talking as much.
I still take the same basic kinds of portraits I took at Olan Mills and Lifetouch, I’m still doing Directory work. But I have been doing a lot more traveling than I ever did for either of the Big Comapnies. Lifetouch is the last of the Big Companies and still likes to gobble up any small fish it finds, so there is no way I would have traveled thousands of miles for them, they have people everywhere already. The Company I work for now is a little smaller and I have been out on the road for months, going to many of the places I have fond memories of traveling to many years before. Some have changed and some feel just as they did when I walked their streets twenty years ago.
The work remains much the same. I still shoot very fast and show pretty quickly as well. As a result, I end up having just a bit of free time at most shoots. I still read a lot, still surf the web, and I’ve written a couple of novels that are waiting for me in that limbo of revision-land. I’m still surprised that people will pay $1000 for portraits taken in a church basement in twenty minutes. But after doing this for so many years, I’m also shocked by people who won’t spend $70 for the smallest thing I have to sell them. Of course, there are a lot of Craigslist photographers out there selling two hours and two CDs full of images for $75, so once people know they can do that, why would they give me anything?
While it is true that I’m a better photographer than those good people, a lot of people don’t know the difference between a good portrait and a snapshot. Again, the same old, same old.
The past year or so has been good. I’ve had a few good Shoots and made some money. I’ve spent time in Washington, DC and other parts of the Northeast. I’ve also been to Arizona and New Mexico and Ohio and Kansas and so on and so forth. Every place I go I find good food and good people. I also find people who shouldn’t be allowed to drive-I’m looking at you New Jersey and New York. But I still enjoyed my time there.
Taking portrait remains fun. I still fall back to the training I got at American Studios about twenty years ago. Circles and Diamonds and Rows. The lighting remains mostly fixed. The posing remains traditional. The sales remain flat with younger people and we make most of our sales to older couples. It’s still a dying industry. But it’s not dead yet.
As always, there’s a lot of turnover. I still train a few people and most of them don’t last. Some of these people are good photographers, but they can’t handle the travel and the days when they don’t make much money. Some just can’t seem to figure out that they need to show up for work. Some get mad and yell at people. I’ve been close a few times myself. I do tend to think I’m a good deal more mellow these days. Or maybe I’ve finally figured out that the Nonbuyersaren’t worth the bother.
For the most part, I still enjoy what I do. I’d like it better if I made a bit more money, but then, most people would like a bit more money. I’ve been taking a lot of touristy type shots in my off time, but not as many as I used to. I’m still not one of those guys that only puts a camera to my face when someone pays me to do it. I like capturing images. I like working on them in Lightroom and Photoshop. Again, I’d like it better if someone bought one once in a while.
Life, such as it is, goes on. I’m still making my living from photography and still traveling the country to do it. Happy Trails.