It’s Always a Question of Time

“Is this going to take long?” Mom says as she rushes in. “We need to be at Practice.”

“There’s one family ahead of you.” I say. “It won’t be too long.”

“Well, I won’t wait too long.”

I’ve had this conversation at every Company I have ever worked for.  Some people live for the thrill of rushing in at the last moment and demanding special treatment-even if there is no advantage to be had, no special treatment to be given, nothing but the chance to look like an idiot in front of other people.

Long lines and long waits are a routine part of having an Assembly Line Portrait taken.  Sometimes the long waits are for the Customers, sometimes they are for the Photographer and the Passers.  A heavy schedule with tightly packed appointments means a hard work day, but a quick one.  A light schedule with big gaps means a lot of down time to read, write, while away the hours with co-workers.  A Job without appointments used to mean people lined up down the hall and the expectation that you will stay there as long as it takes to get the line down.  That was when I really learned how to pick up the pace and shoot as fast as my equipment will allow me to shoot.

A normal day sees me shooting anywhere from thirty to fifty sittings.  These usually range from Little Old Ladies to family groups that vary in size from three to ten.  Each sitting gets five minutes, whether they need them or not.  From time to time I like to throw in a few new poses and see what works, see what sells, see if there are any news poses that need to replace an old one in The Standard Set.

One of the tests of these new poses is how long they take to setup and shoot.  The Company almost never time tests the new poses they want us to use, they just hand us a book filled with random shots and expect us to recreate them.  Most of the New Gee Whiz Shots have people laying on the floor or laying on top of each other-these are time intensive poses and can be difficult on the subjects on the hardwood and cement floors we often work on.  But if it proves itself a solid seller, I will still do a time intensive shot.

Working alone I can zip through as many as a hundred sittings a day-I have done that a number of times.  It’s no fun, but it is possible.  Working with a Proof Passer or two or three or four Proof Passers can slow the process down-but then, the process changes from one of rapid fire portraits to one of selling portraits.  I still shoot fast, though not as fast as some, and I take the time to talk to the Passers and see what is selling and what isn’t.

Some Photographers like to go way overboard-they use dozens of props, countless backgrounds, every pose they have ever seen, tweak the lights as much as they can, and take at least five times as many shots as I take.  If we are given the same opportunity-same Passer, same number of Sits, same kind of Shoot-I will usually have more in sales at the end of the day.  It’s all about time, it’s always about time in Assembly Line Portraits.

There is a point of diminishing returns-a point where there are too many choices.  High School Senior and Wedding Portraits can get away with taking hundreds of images-but even there I always prefer taking less images.  In the Assembly Line Portrait business more portraits don’t automatically mean more sales-it just means they take more time deciding which one they want for The Freebie.  More shots can lead to more sales, but just as vanilla is the most popular flavor of ice cream, the Basic Set is usually where the sales come from.

Of course, you can’t sell what you don’t have.  So I have to take a few extra shots, I have to think about things that will fit into the Products we sell, I have to do the best I can to make the Subject look good and feel good about themselves.

I’m a much better Photographer than I used to be, I can see things now that I didn’t see before, and it takes me a lot less time to see those things than it once did.  When I first started a group of three would walk in and I would stand there and ponder what pose to use-now I know what I am going to do.  This is both good and bad, just like a Big Mac can be both good and bad.

Most of the Subjects I see are expecting a Big Mac, not a Fillet Mignon-but once in a while I can whip up a gourmet meal in those five minutes.  They still see the Big Mac, but I know the difference.  Maybe if I spent more time, they’d appreciate it more.  Nah.

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