“Oh, you did so good.” Mom said as she picked up her baby.
“Thanks, I appreciate that.” I say, a bit proud of myself, as I am just out of Training at the Big Box Store.
“Tsk, I was talking to The Baby.”
If the portraits are good, it’s all because of the subject. If the portraits are bad, it’s all because of the photographer. Being an Assembly Line Portrait Photographer is not a job for the timid or the thin skinned. Your portraits are routinely called awful, horrible, terrible and just about every other word you can image for just plain bad.
People also tell you they’d rather be at the Dentist or they’d rather be anywhere else or this isn’t their favorite thing to do. But they still do it, so they can get there Freebies.
Trying new backgrounds, new poses, new anything upset some people. Others hate seeing nothing but the same old thing they have always seen. The key is to have a mix of the Standard and the Experimental-knowing that some people will hate a pose that looks like the Victorians would have liked it and other will hate the ones with half their face out of the frame. Using The Rule of Thirds and The Golden Mean and Low Key and High Key and so on and so forth will not impress everyone. It doesn’t matter what they are called, as long as the people like them enough to buy them.
Sometimes it’s The Company that likes the different poses. You have to do floor poses and super closeups and bright white backgrounds that make the subjects look like they are floating in space. These can be fun to shoot and some people do like them, but they are not appropriate for all subjects. Such as a white background for people with white hair or full length shots of people who clearly don’t want their lower bodies to be seen.
Photographers and Passers are pretty much invisible-what we wear or how we act only registering on people if we are so far out of the expected as to be shocking. A dayglo shirt or a bout of profanity might get their attention, but not much else. Having a portrait taken is one of the more selfish acts that we can perform. It’s all about The Subject looking good and being happy-at least, that it the idea. The fact of the matter is that a lot of people really do expect to have one photo taken and that will be that.
One of the things that The Company tends to forget is that people buy portraits of themselves, not the background, lighting, or props. Real people are seldom like Models, who are paid to look their best and will pretty much do anything you tell them to do. Real People have strong opinions about poses and sometimes they will flatly refuse to do a standard pose. Sometimes they hate the background. Sometimes they hate that wonderful contemporary lighting you worked so hard to get right.
I’ve had people that didn’t like the shadows around their nose, the catch lights in there eyes, and the tilt of their head. Shadows and light reflected in the eyes is a part of having a studio portrait taken. The head tilt is often just the photographer trying to make the subject look better in the shot-but most people don’t understand the phrase-tilt your head a little to the left.
In the good old days photographers would walk over and manually adjust a person’s head to get it into the correct position. You really can’t touch people anymore-not without being sued or arrested or both.
Some Subjects go out of their way to be difficult. They are in a hurry, aren’t dressed for portraits, or just sit there looking glum the whole time-knowing that if they look horrible they will have a good excuse not to buy portraits. Some people just hate to smile in a photo no matter what-this is often the Dad.
It’s still Assembly Line Portraits, the only unique item in the portrait is the person. It really is all about you. We want you to look good, but we want you to buy portraits even if you don’t look good.