“I’ve never been good at the Selling part of Assembly Line Portraits.” I tell the fellow who has been my Manager for the past few years, but whose future is now as much up in the air as my own.
“I’m not good at selling either.” He said and put on his serious face. “But I watched the Sales Table and it doesn’t look all that hard.”
At most of the old school Assembly Line Portrait studios the Photographer and the Passer were not friends and seldom had the same goals. The Photographer’s job was to take a set number of portraits as quickly a possible and the Passer’s job was to try and sell those portraits. Most of those old Companies didn’t pay the Photographer any Commission on Sales, so there was very little reason for the Photographers to care what the images looked like or if anyone ever bought them.
The New Company has resolved the problem of Photographers and Passers not getting along by making them one and the same. And this is why my days are numbered. As a Photographer I tend to be a bit of a prima donna and I have no love for people who come back and tell me how much my pictures suck. The idea of getting this kind of feedback firsthand is not a pleasant one.
On the whole I’m pretty mellow about it all now. I’m no longer stressed out, I’ve pretty much reached the Acceptance stage. I haven’t changed the way I take portraits, though I have heard stories of a couple of other Photographers who have pretty much tossed in the towel. If anything, I’m tweaking what I’m shooting in preparation for my own Shoots. I might be stressing a bit about getting those Accounts of my own.
I’ve started to work a bit more on the Fine Art Photography side of my photographer dreams. This is kind of like being a writer in that you work on short stories to pay the rent while you toil away on the Great American Novel. There are many ways to make money with a camera, but since high quality cameras are now so cheap and Craigslist is free, there are a LOT of people now proclaiming themselves to be Professional Photographers.
Of course, it’s not really an Us vs Them kind of thing, we were all newbies at one point. It’s just that in the old days creating a good image took a bit more work-now it seems that anyone can point an image capture devise in the right direction and create a sell-able image. The Passers like to tell the Subjects that it’s the difference between a snapshot and a portrait, but it’s a difference that has less and less meaning.
The New Company has made it clear that the ways of the Old Company are history. This means that the bulk of us Old Timers will be free to pursue other interests. But not all. A surprising number of my fellow Assembly Line Portrait photographers are embracing the whole Shot-N-Show idea. The general feeling among most of them is: hey, how hard can it be? Having been there once or twice myself, I’ll say that it can be very hard indeed.
I worked with a Passer recently who crunched some numbers and came up with a simple solution. All you have to do is sell $1,000 worth of portraits to 10 customers a day and you’ll make about $160 in commission. Fine, so we had 11 customers that day and sold a little over $300. See the problem there?
Taking a portrait can be challenging, getting the posing correct, obtaining a nice express, making sure the lighting is where it should be, and so on and so forth. But with practice, it can be done in a matter of minutes. Some Subjects take longer than others, and some give the same expression no matter what. In any case, my job takes a few minutes.
Selling portraits is a whole other kettle of fish. People can’t make up their minds about which portrait they like-though they can instantly make up their minds that they are NOT GOING TO SPEND ANY MONEY. So the Passers job is to ease them into the decision to buy something. This is often done with the standard Q&A method of narrowing down who they want to give pictures to and what size they want to give-then you whip up a package and give them a price.
I am terrible at this stuff. Do you want anything? No? Have a nice day.
And so I am working on other things. Taking images of the odds and ends I find in my travels has always been one of the side benefits of the job, so I am turning these images into Fine Art. I have been told many times over the years that I have a good eye, so we’ll see if anyone is willing to pay for my artistic vision. Hey, they don’t call them starving artists for nothing.
Artistic success is like any other, it takes work and dedication. And like all professional photography, creating the image is the easy part, the fun part. Getting eyes on those images and buyers to open their wallets can take a bit more effort.
Did I mention that I’m not really not good at that whole selling thing?