“Do you mind if I take a picture of that pose with my phone?” Dad says as he runs around behind me and snaps a photo of the kids I have just posed.
“Have a sit in the waiting area.” I say and stand in front of Dad as I shoo the kids out of the room. “We’ll show you what we’ve got in a few minutes.”
I’ve had people snap photos of groups I’ve posed over my shoulder. I’ve also had people recreate the pose in the hallway outside the Camera Room. Some people love to steal things, and if you tell them that your business is selling that portrait they just stole they will just laugh-they weren’t going to buy anything anyway.
Once upon a time you could make a serious argument that there was a difference between a Portrait taken by a professional photographer and a snapshot taken by anyone who happened to have a camera. The Assembly Line Portraits business has always worked on the fact that a portrait is better than a snapshot. Not so much anymore.
People don’t care about the quality of a portrait anymore. They are happy enough to have a collection of random grab shots pass for a Wedding Album, so why wouldn’t they be just as happy with photos they take of their kids themselves with their cell phone?
Skill has been blown out of the water by ease of use. Anyone can snap a photo with a cell phone or a cheap digital camera and then punch it up with some imaging software. It’s a matter of a few keystrokes to make black and white, sepia tone, or hyper saturated images. It’s easy to make your own Backgrounds, Composites, Borders, or Text Messages. It doesn’t take much time to watch a couple of YouTube videos to learn about lighting patterns and how to make them from Window Light.
But even this assumes that anyone cares about Light Patterns, Backgrounds, or Borders. Most people are perfectly happy with an off-centered image shot on a busy street with traffic, power lines, and random people in the photo.
The Photographer in an Assembly Line Portrait studio has a lot of control over what the image will look like. Lights, backgrounds, composition, and poses are the main areas of concern. Hair, clothing, and expression are up to The Subject to worry about.
Many Assembly Line Portrait studios still sell images straight out of the camera-with a couple of options like Retouching and Cropping. Some offer selective colorizing and a dizzying array of background choices-but the images are still pretty much as captured. Playing around with an image for an hour in Photoshop is not really a viable option when your shooting forty sittings a day.
Several modern portrait photographers have taken the idea of what a portrait should be and turned it on its head. Black and White tight shots of expressionless people shot on grey or white background dead on-often printed in gigantic proportions. This may be fine for Fine Art, but it isn’t really great portraiture.
A snapshot is casual, informal, whatever light happens to be around, the subject looking anywhere and everywhere, no noticeable posing or composition. Mom or Dad tend to take a lot of snapshots.
I’m reminded of the opening scenes of a Henry Winkler movie called An American Christmas Carol. A man owns a handmade chair company and his son brings in a cheap mass produced chair and says that it is the same as his father’s chair. His father looks at the cheap chair and pints out all the many flaws in its manufacturing. No one cares about that, they just want a cheap chair.
Of course, The Assembly Line Portrait Studio has always been the manufacturer of the cheap portrait-but now even fewer people want the cheap portrait.
Portraits are not what they used to be. We all have facebook and Twitter and even our friends and family far from us can see what we look like and what we are up to. Families don’t care if a portrait is taken in a studio or if it’s a snapshot taken just for fun. In the age of instant and disposable everything does anyone really care that a canvas portrait will last for a hundred years?
Of course they do, but the Assembly Line Portrait model needs to change. People are still willing to spend large amounts of money on portraits-they just don’t like to be herded through like cattle while doing so. Old habits die hard, and change has been slow.
Snapshots and Portraits-is there really that much difference?