Giving and Getting Advice

“Wow.” The New Photographer says after I showed her how to setup the lights for a shot. “No one showed me anything cool like that.”

“It’s one of the few cool shots we can do with the equipment that we have available.” I say and smile. “This lighting setup is easy and you can use it whenever you like.”

“I’ll tell everyone I thought of it.” She says in a teasing voice.

“I’m sure you will.” I say.

Once upon a time I was Trainer.  This means that all those good people with No Experience would come and spend a couple of weeks with me while I showed them how to take Assembly Line Portraits.  There are two main ways to train people, one involve a three inch thick book filled with the Laws Of The Company and one involves me saying-Watch Me and Do as I Do.  I tend to favor the Watch Me and Do as I Do method.

Not surprisingly, most of the Assembly Line Portrait Companies prefer the Read a Three Inch Thick Manual Method.  This is standard Corporate Cover Your Ass stuff.  The Manual is usually filled with Legal Speak as well as the ins and outs of Assembly Line Portraits.  They are also filled with examples of dead boring portraits, which are usually the specialty of The Company.

Training was interesting, as you ended up with all kinds of odd people who wanted to be portrait photographers, but really weren’t cut out for it.  Lots of these people would quit as soon as they realized how much they have to travel and how little they get paid.  Some are like me, old pros that keep bouncing from one Company to the next and have good war stories to share.

I don’t Train at the current Company, because I do very little the way The Company wants it to be done.  They also pay their Trainers crap.  The reward is that your supposed to get more work, as there are always people who need training and someone has to train them.  Yeah, right.   It’s still crap work, but it can be fun.

One of the problems with the way The Company trains is that they only show the new people the Basics.  Then they go around and complain that everyone is shooting nothing but The Basics.  There are a handful of cool shots than anyone can do, and that can be done using the bottom of line equipment we have to work with.

We have an Advanced Trainer, who is supposed to come around after the Initial Training and teach the Newbies the cool shots.  These are the High Appeal, Way Cool, Contemporary Shots that everyone will want to buy.  At least in theory anyway.  What usually happens is that the Advance Trainer shows up and spends thirty minutes showing the Newbies  weird poses.  These are shots the Newbie will never remember and never want to do because they are so damned complicated and so difficult that the average non-Yoga Master can’t do them.  So much for Advanced Training, and the Newbie goes on shooting the Basics.

For the most part, this is all well and good.  The Basics are the Basics for a reason, they are traditional shots that have been proven sellers pretty much forever.  My own Standard Set of shots includes a lot of Basic Shots.  If you are working a Shoot where they are buying, these shots will make you as much money, and take you half as much time, as the Advanced Shots.

I do have few Advanced Shots that I use, Shots that I have picked up from Other Companies and from the many Books I have read.  The problem with many Advance Shots not offered by The Company, is that you can’t do them with the equipment provided.  This doesn’t stop the Company from suggesting that we all read Rangerfinder and Professional Portrait Photographer and watch as many videos as we can-even though none of them have a Lighting Setup like ours.

The other day I worked with one of the Newbie Photographers.  She was fast and could knock out a portrait setting with the best of them.  One of the ways she did this was b not changing the pose or the lighting, but by changing the cropping.  We’re supposed to do more than just zoom in for an additional shot, but I’m not a Trainer and I really shouldn’t care.  I would still prefer to see the job done right.  But for all I know, that is how she was Trained.

I showed her two shots, my Hollywood Lighting Shoot and my Rim Lighting shot.  These are easy shots, if not first day of class, maybe second or third.  I didn’t invent them, in fact I think maybe Rembrandt invented them.  They were used a lot by the great Hollywood Portrait Photographers of the 1930s and 1940s.  They require a bit of work, you have to go and adjust the background light for each shot.  For many of our Assembly Line Photographers, that is a bit too much like work.

The sad fact of the matter is that the photography doesn’t really matter.  So long as their eyes are open and they are more or less in the middle of the frame, a Buying Shoot will Buy them.  One of the Passers likes to tell me that all he needs are two shots-if they want to buy, they will buy from those two shots.   Sometimes having more shots to choose from just makes the Subjects unhappy, as they are forced to make too many decisions.

Still, old habits die hard.  I watched the Newbie and I showed her a couple of things she could do and maybe improve her sales.  I took a shot on one of her sets that sold, but it’s possible one of the ones she took would have sold as well.  I told her she owed me a dinner next time we worked together-which will likely be never.

I resisted the urge to correct her on the many things she didn’t do the way I would have done them.  She returned the favor by not offering any advice to me on how to improve my own portraits.  She could have used a little more Training, but it’s not my job any more.  Maybe she’ll use the two shots I showed her, or maybe not.  It was still kind of fun to see someone willing to learn something.  And it’s always fun to share war stories with a fellow Assembly Line Portrait Photographer.

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