“I noticed that you put the large woman in front.” a fellow Assembly Line Portrait Photographer says in his Professor voice after he watches me shoot a sitting. “I would never do that.”
“Hmm” I say and finish up the paperwork for the sit.
“I also noticed that you don’t turn the women in the couples shots far enough.” He continues. “If you turn them a little more and have them hold hands that helps to hide their bellies. Most people don’t want to see their bellies.”
“You don’t say?” I smile and take the sit out to The Passer.
I rarely work with other Photographers. One of the nice things about being an Assembly Line Portrait photographer is that you have a lot of autonomy, we all like being in charge. We also like to think that we know everything, and as a result, no one can tell us anything. The other Photographer is right, no one wants to see their bellies in the photos and large women prefer to stand in the back and hide as much as they can. My expectations are not, however, to make ever image absolutely perfect, but every image good enough. Perfection is not necessary.
I watch the other Photographer shoot a sitting. He and I do nothing the same way. I make everyone sit down, he has everyone stand up. I seldom touch anyone, he arranges everyone’s hair, turns their bodies, and adjusts their clothes. I give people directions, he engages them in conversations. I like to change the lighting and backgrounds, he mainly likes to change the poses. I don’t like ultra tight cropping, he likes to chop the top off of people’s heads. We both think we are doing it the Right Way.
I used to tell other Photographers how to take portraits, but after a while, I stopped wasting my time. Even if someone working with me asks me to show them how to do something, for the most part, they won’t take my advice. The only exception is when I am training someone, then they have to listen, at least while I am training them. I’m pretty much beyond training myself-and I don’t pay too much attention to suggestions.
The other Photographer has been shooting almost as long as I have, he knows what he is doing and is a good photographer. He sees what I am doing, sees the shortcuts I take, sees the sometimes harsh lighting I prefer, and he knows that his images are better than mine. So at the end of the day when I have more sits and more money than he does, he is completely and totally baffled. I tell him my best day was a little over $8,000 in sales and he says he has never had a day that good. Maybe he will beat me the next time we work together, maybe not.
Working alone we tend to develop our own speed-I have favored shooting quickly myself. I hate waiting, so I don’t like making people wait for me to take their portrait. This also goes back to my dim beginnings at The Big Box stores, where the faster I shot a sitting, the quicker I could get back to reading my book. Other photographers like to follow a different path, taking as much time as they can and making sure every hair is in place. I try to notice the details myself, straighten ties, make sure fingers are held together, make sure the clasp isn’t showing in a necklace, tell someone when their bra strap is showing, things like that.
I don’t always catch the bra strap, or the blink, or the edge of the background in the image. Shooting fast means missing things once in a while, but it also means having the time to take another shot-if you notice the mistake in the first one. I’m not a big fan of that whole ‘Measure twice and cut once’ school of thought. Especially now that we have digital images which are pretty much free, it’s easy enough to take a few shots to make sure you get the good one.
It’s hard to watch another Photographer and not feel the burning urge to offer unsolicited advice. It’s equally hard to listen to unsolicited advice about my own photography. The only thing worse than another photographer is a Passer telling you how to take portraits. It’s usually a new hire that wants to tell you your pictures suck, or tell you how great they are-in either case their opinion means pretty much nothing. At least a fellow Assembly Line Portrait Photographer has been in the trenches and knows what he/she is talking about. Not that this really matters, you can’t tell someone who has spent years telling themselves they are a genius that they could be better at what they do.