“That was a great portrait.” The Passer says. “Your lighting is magic.”
“Thanks.” I say, thinking she is just one more Passer who has been told to flatter the Photographer.
“No, I really mean it.” She says. “Your pictures are beautiful.”
Over the past 16 years or so I have learned how to see the portrait I want to take of a subject. When a Photographer tells you to tilt you head, turn your body, or move your arm, these directors are meant to put your body and face in the correct position relative to the camera. The Correct Position is a matter of taste, and in the world of Assembly Line Portraits, it is often a matter of conservative taste.
The Photographer isn’t taking portraits for the fun of it, unless he is in the park and chatting up a pretty girl. We take portraits for one reason and one reason only-to sell them. So I have taken the time to learn what I can about the art of taking Portraits. I read books, watch videos, buy light modifiers and gels and other small odds and ends. I then try out the portrait techniques I have learned on the often unwilling Subjects I find in front of my camera.
The result is that many of my images have a different look and feel when compared to the portraits everyone else is taking. Not all of them, I still shoot my share of the boring stuff The Company seems to be in love with. But I do shoot a few images with more dramic lighting, more colorful backgrounds, and occasionally a different pose or two.
The trouble with almost all portrait books and videos is that none of the models appear to be from planet Earth-at least not the one where I work. I like to look at beautiful young people who have been Photoshopped as much as the next man, but it doesn’t help when it comes to shooting the sixty something couples that make up the bulk of our business.
The one or two shots you will find of older people are ‘character’ studies with harsh lighting and strong shadows. Which is a good look once in a while and has been a consist seller for me-when I have that one person wander in who looks like Clint Eastwood. The rest of the time, well, not so much.
I like this Passer, she is a good sellsperson and she likes my photos. She has not tried to tell me what to do or complained that we are not making money and it’s all my fault. A plesant change from many of the Passers.
We are only working together for two days. The first day was good, the second was full of Staff and not so good. Like all the rest of us she is worried about things to come. The New Company didn’t get rich by writing a lot of checks, so we can all expect our paychecks to be even smaller than they are now. Which means they can expect a good deal of the current crew from The Old Company to beat a hasty retreat and persue other interests.
If The New Company has any brains, they will keep the talent they have here happy. But I am not at all sure the New Company has any brains. Until such time as we hear anything for certain, we have to carry on as we always have.
My portraits are not as adventursome as they once were. I now tend to favor more tradional poses and tried and true lighting patterns. I’m not interested in intentinal lens flare, people laying on the floor and staring up at the camera, or shots of people jumping and captured in midair. I like to play with the backgrounds, the lighting, and the body angles. These are, of course, the things that The Company has always complained about. I have no doubt that The New Company will also complain about them.
In my dreams, someone at the Lab looks at my images and is so overwhelmed that they invite me to go on a National Tour explaining my expert posing and lighting to the ignorant Assembly Line Portrait masses-but that hasn’t happened yet. Usually the yahoos at the Lab have a more succint message-Your Pictures Suck! I guess this means there will be no National Tour.
In fact I recently recieve a critique of my work form my best month of the year. This was a month where I actually made some money, took some great pictures, and had a couple of Passers who liked what I was shooting. So what did my Supervisor have to say? He picked out five portraits and bitched about each of them.
Really? My best money month of the year and you couldn’t find ONE portrait that was worthy of a positive comment? Of course, it’s entirely possible that this is what the New Company wants. I have heard that they love to tell everyone thier pictures suck. The fewer people that hang around, the few checks they have to write.
So it’s always a pleasure to work with someone who actually likes most of the images I shoot. I wonder if I’ll ever get to work with her again?