Stealing Food From My Mouth

“Please stop that.” I say to the teenage girl standing behind me with her cellphone held up to snap a picture.

“Why?” she says, honestly confused that I don’t want her to take photos of her parents after I have posed and positioned them.

“Do you eat candy out of bins before you weight it?” I say to the look of confusion on her face.


“Why not?”

“That’s stealing.”

“So is taking pictures over my shoulder.”

On the one hand, I am not as worried about people taking photos over my shoulder as some of my fellow Assembly Line Portrait photographers-they tend to yell at people and throw them out of the Camera room. I usually just wave my hands and ask them to stop. After all, a snapshot from a cell phone or a point and shot camera is not going to be much like the image I will create-the lights won’t trip one thing, and making a portrait is all about the light.

On the other hand, posing is the most visible thing that I do while I am creating portraits. Once it is done, it’s easy enough to look at a posed and group and think, well, that was easy. And after a while it is dead easy. I can pose people in my sleep. That doesn’t mean I like someone stealing money from my pocket by taking a picture instead of buying one.

I went to dinner with a new Passer once and we sat near the door and watched the people as they came in. I told her, I don’t see a happy family any more, I see a group of five and I am already thinking how best to arrange them. A year or so later, this same Passer told me that she no longer saw families either, she saw people that needed a 16×20 or a certain package that was selling well at the time. Working the assembly line we stop seeing people and just see a means of making a living.

Even when I have my occasional bouts of creativity and want to change the lighting, the props, the poses-I still want to do so in order to make the portraits more desirable, more salable. And, of course, I have been known to steal the odd pose myself here and there. It’s all been done before.

From time to time I have someone who doesn’t shoot over my shoulder, but asks if they can take a photo with their camera. I just tell them no. Some people actually ask me to take a photo with their camera-and there was a time that I would do so, at Companies that didn’t pay me a commission on sales.

Once in a while someone will just go outside the camera room and recreate the pose against a white wall. It is a bit annoying, but there is nothing to be done about it. It’s kind of like going into a craft mall and saying-Well, I could make that -about everything you see.  Yes, you could.

From time to time I go to Arts and Crafts Fairs.  I look at the Fine Art Photography and say-Well, I could do that-only I don’t.  There was one fellow who travels between Texas and Scotland and sells the pictures from one to those living in the other.  Now that’s the kind of idea that I like.  But like all ideas, it requires action, which is where I tend fall down on the job.

I did work with one Photographer who yelled at someone for taking photos over his shoulder and he took his wallet out and said-Here, just steal the money right from my wallet.  That’s a bit over the top for me.  I’m a little more laid back.

I have a lot of people who want me to take a quick photo that they can post of Twitter or Facebook or whatever and as a general rule I don’t mind doing that.  I also don’t mind people asking me to snap a photo of them when they see a camera hanging around my neck at a park or a tourist attraction, but if I’m at work and that work involves selling portraits, yeah, I do mind giving away freebies.

The other day I shot a couple that was having their 50th Wedding Anniversary, and they ordered about $500 worth of portraits as a result.  All well and good, but then they turn up back at The Shoot a couple of hours later.  Seldom a good sign.  They go in and they cancel their order-they say a friend of theirs is a Photographer and that he will take their pictures for free.  This right bastard should be slapped into next week-but there is nothing to be done.  After all, there may not even be another photographer, they have just made him up to cover their buyer’s remorse.  But usually, people aren’t shy about saying they changed their minds.

I have also been involved in Shoots where the Manager came in and told the Passers to give the customers all their the pictures we took, not just The Freebie.  The Manager thought we ripping off his customers by trying to sell them portraits.  I wasn’t there, but I have always wanted to go into the store and fill and cart and leave with it, and then if tried to stop me, I would tell him he was ripping me off by expecting me to pay.  We left that Shoot and sold the portraits at a different location.

People are often generous when it is someone else’s money at stake.  There have been many times when I showed up at a Shoot and the Coordinator pulls me aside and says don’t pressure our people, they aren’t going to buy anything.  I always tell them we won’t pressure anyone, but if they want portraits, we will sell them, and if that is a problem we don’t have to set up.  It’s odd that so many people seem to think we are running some kind of charity outfit, or that we make money by handing out The Freebies.

When working at a Church it is common to hear someone say “I’ll just have what The Church bought me.’  Which is funny, since the Church didn’t buy them anything.  Of course, The Church doesn’t want to tell them that.

Just remmeber the words of Robert A Heinlein-There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

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