“I’m very unhappy about the way things went today.” The Coordinator says in a stern voice. “I don’t like the way you treated our people.”
“I’m sorry.” I say, not exactly sure why she is unhappy.
“I’m also unhappy with my own portraits.” She continues. “And that was the only time we had to come in and have them taken.”
“Sorry to hear that.” I say, really puzzled now. She bought a large portrait package and we took additional shots of the kids. All in all I thought it was a good day-we made money.
One of the problems with all Assembly Line Portrait jobs is that you spend too much time with yourself. You stop thinking of your opinions as opinions, but more as immutable laws. My way of taking portraits is the ONLY way. My way of Selling portraits is the ONLY way. My way of booking a Shoot is the ONLY way. Or at least, the only correct way.
My own posing has morphed and shifted subtly over the years, I like to think it is better than it used to be, but the true is closer to it is merely different from what it used to be. I have a number of set shots that I like, shots that I have had luck with and that have been consist sellers. But one of them seems to have fallen out of favor, so I may have to change it. This is not a big deal, except that it feels like a subtle violation of my very being. I shoot portraits, therefore I am.
One of my Golden Rules has always been that Different Sales. There are a number of reasons for this. People like to see something they have not seen before, whether it be background, lighting, or pose. This is a way for The Photographer to stay interested in the work, and refining a new pose takes a bit of practice and we can all use a bit more practice. The problems, of course, are that some people don’t want anything new. Some Passers don’t want anything new. Some Photographers don’t want anything new. And so I was often able to make a bit more money by putting out just a bit more effort.
But now there is very little that is new or exciting. Google has put every portrait every taken on display. Awkward Family Photo has taken the family portrait and made it is a successful joke. For many people, a snapshot from a cell phone is good enough to post to Facebook or Twitter for family and friends to see. And the truth of the matter is that anyone with a good hand at Photoshop can create a very good portrait from a snapshot and get it printed to canvas online for next to nothing.
So it’s easy to get a bit discouraged and start to go through the motions. Sleep walking through those five minute portrait sessions while you think about what you will post on your resume or how you can tweak your Squidoo Lens so it makes a little more than $8 a month. And then, when the people start to complain about the crappy photos, you wonder what they are talking about.
Taking portraits requires attention to detail and a quick eye to see that expression you want when it shows up for a fraction of a second. This kind of thing is second nature to me now, I can take portraits in my sleep. But that doesn’t mean they are as good as the ones I take when I am well rested and ready to go.
A few weeks back I worked with a new Photographer. I watched her take portraits. I had Trained the man that trained her, so he had passed on my own minimalist style. I watched her tell people to turn this way and that and then tell them to Smile! Since I never see myself taking portraits, I didn’t really know what it looked like. It is a fast and rough and tumble style of taking portraits. The goal is to move them in and move them out. She was even faster than I am, but I think she may have been a bit too fast. So then I have to pause and think, am I too fast?
It’s hard to slow down, in fact, it’s all but impossible. But I can slow down just enough to make sure the portraits look the way they are supposed to. Make sure everyone is looking in the same direction, the image is framed correctly, the lighting is not too soft or too hard. These are all simple enough to do. Slowing down and being nice is not always easy. I really do prefer to give orders rather than asking people to please turn this way or that.
There is usually one person at a Shoot that the Preseller has been kissing up to for the past month or so. That one person is used to her ego being stroked and her every need being addressed in a subservient manner. This is not what she gets from The Photographer and The Passer who show up at the Shoot. We are at a Shoot to work and make money, not kowtow to the Coordinator. So the one person who usually gets pissed off and demands someone be kicked off a Shoot is that Coordinator who is shocked-SHOCKED-that we are not kissing her ass the way the Preseller does. And people do get kicked out of Shoots.
The fact is that we should be nice to the Coordinator as well, but for the most part, the Coordinator is just one more person and they get no different treatment from anyone else at the Shoot. They think that they deserve some Gold Level treatment that doesn’t exist. The High Maintenance Coordinators are often at very good Shoots, Shoots where we are making good money and everyone is buying. So it is hard for us to take that call from The Boss telling us that we suck and we are being removed from the Shoot. People are buying, we can’t be acting THAT badly.
But the opinion of only one person matters, the one that has the most unrealistic expectations of anyone we will meet. It’s my fault if she hates me, but I am set up for failure.