The Challenges of Training

“So were you planning on buying any portraits today?” I say as I wrap up my poorly memorized sales pitch.  Before they can answer my Trainer pushes me out of the way and takes over.

“Hi.” She says with a huge smile.  “What sizes portraits do you normally share?  Is 8×10 big enough or would you give 11x14s or 16x20s?”

I’ve seen this happen a hundred times and I’ve even fallen victim to it myself.  Watching someone flounder as they try to do something they are not comfortable with doing is tough.  A Trainer is usually someone pretty good at doing their job, but this in no ways means that they have a clue how to teach someone else how to do.  It doesn’t help matters when something like 80% of the Trainees wash out.  Assembly Line Portraits is not a job for everyone.

Photographers take portraits and Passers sell them.  It helps to have good people in both positions, but anyone in the business will tell you that the hierarchy goes something like this-Location, Passer, Photographer.  Without a good location, the other two don’t really matter.  You can send the best Photographer and Passer to a Bad Shoot and they will not make a lot of money.  But since the Booking of Shoots is beyond our control, we have to do the best we can by taking good portraits and presenting them for sale in the most favorable and persuasive way.

The Sales Script is usually a well crafted bit of business designed to tell the customer everything they need to know about buying portraits from The Company.  We tell them about the Book, about The Company, and about The Finishes and Sizes, and we ask them who they share portraits with.  Mixed in are the mundane facts of the business. This is Your Free One, but you can Upgrade-for a reasonable price.  We can do this because most people buy portraits.  As with the famous Used Car Salesman, we put off talking about price as long as possible.  Countless books have been written on Closing The Sale and Overcoming Objections and so on and so forth.

Just as there are Photographers and Button Pushers, there are Salespeople and Order Takers.  I’ve always been pretty good at the Order Taking part.  Oh, you want three framed 8×10 Canvases with Retouching?  Sure I can take your money!  Thanks for coming in!  Well, everyone is pretty good at being an Order Taker.

Learning to Pass Proofs is like learning anything, it takes a bit of time and effort to get it right.  This requires a bit of patience from the Trainer and the willingness to let a few sales slip away as the Trainee learns the ropes.  But a real Salesperson HATES letting a Sale get away.   It physically pains them to watch some newbie fumble around and offer a sheet of wallets to a customer that was talking about buying 4 8x10s-before they heard the price for the Canvas.  It’s like watching Bruce Banner change into the Hulk as the old Sales Pro charges the table to Save the Sale.

The problem, of course, is that we know the Old Pro can do the job, we need to see if there’s any chance the Newbie can do it.  This constant disrespect from Trainers is one reason Trainees don’t last.

The way I Train is pretty straight forward.   The first couple of days they watch me do stuff.  I explain this or that as I setup the Studio.  Why I put the background where I put it.  Why I chose this room over that room.  Why owning a good hand truck and an electric fan are investments that will pay for years to come.

Dealing with the mechanics of the job-paper work, camera settings, light positions, etc can wait a couple of days.  Hopefully The Company will have a useful Training Manual that covers all that stuff.

Taking Portraits is the fun part of the job, so I spend some time right off the bat having them look through the view finder and getting used to capturing images with the particular camera that The Company got a deal on and bought a hundred of at one time.  I show them the cropping, over and over and over.  I let them take a few captures of Singles and Couples.  I explain a bit of the reasons behind why I pose groups this way or that.  It all has to do with the size of the people in the portrait.  After a couple of days I let them shoot a sitting-or try to let them shoot a sitting.  The urge to jump in and correct this or that is necessary in the beginning.  If they are still making the same mistakes a week or two later, well, maybe this isn’t for them after all.

Or maybe they just need some time on their own.  My own Training has always improved once my Trainer has gone back to wherever they came from and I can settle into doing the work in my own fashion.  Despite what every Assembly Line Portrait Company wants to think, you can’t turn a Photographer or a Passer into a clean cut kid at McDonalds asking every Subject if they want fries with that.  They can limit where we shoot and what we sell, but we are Creatives and we will end up it doing it our way or not at all.

In the end Training is just a starting point.  A good Student will continue to learn, will read books and watch videos and maybe even attend a couple of workshops now and then.  I still fall back on my initial training from nearly twenty years ago, but I’m not limited by it.  I’m hoping the same will be true with my Studies in the fine art of Passing.  I at least feel like I have made a start, and that’s something.

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