“When he turned in his notice, the Boss didn’t even ask him to stay.” The Passer says with a shake of her head. “I always liked working with him.”
“I only worked with him once.” I say and shrug. “He was fun to talk to, but he took even less time with the Subjects than I do.”
I like to think that I am pretty good at what I do. I am not the best and not the worst. Assembly Line Portraits seldom leads itself to being the best anyway. Good enough usually is good enough. High volume portraits is all about the averages-how many sittings, how many poses shot, how many products presented, how much money brought in. Not everyone is going to show up, not every photographer is going to take thirty perfect shots a sitting, not every passer is going to show every product and package we offer, not everyone is going to buy. So we live on the averages.
The Company has decided that maybe the quality of the portraits might have something to do with the averages. It does, but not as much as we would like to think. Common sense would tell us that good photography will sell better than poor photography, but experience teaches us otherwise. A Subject that wants to buy portraits will buy whatever the Photographer has taken-good or bad. But since The Company can’t control the Subjects, they are doing their best to control The Photographers.
There are different levels of portraiture, and people will have different expectations about those levels. Someone paying $5,000 for a family portrait is going to expect something with more of a Wow factor than someone getting a Freebie. The Company used to be a bit more respected than it is now,. Even though it has always been an Assembly Line Portrait Company, it was never viewed in exactly the same light as those little shoebox studios in the Big Box Store. It was never exactly a Signature Brand Studio, either.
Getting the perfect portrait sitting has never been the goal of any Assembly Line Portrait Company, so it is a bit odd that The Company now wants every shot to be a textbook example of classical studio portrait posing, lighting, and framing. The standard model for profit has been take enough portraits, hopefully one or two will be good enough to sell, and move on to the next sitting. The goal now is to present the Subject with 20 to 30 perfect images, portraits so good they will now buy, even if they hadn’t planned on buying when they came in. It is possible, I have had it happen from time to time. But counting on turning Nonbuyers into Buyers is betting against the House.
We no longer have pre-printed packages, so the implied pressure that, hey, we printed these, you need to buy them, is no longer there. Pixels on a screen aren’t really real, and most of us have learned that what we see is not always what we get. People who walk in not planning on buying anything will also have a lot of buyer’s remorse when they do buy and it is not uncommon for them to return and cancel the order.
The modern Subject has also learned how to zip through the Process of having a portrait taken and viewing those portraits. They sit with stone faces for the portraits and they repeatedly say they hate everything that comes up on the screen during the viewing. These people are so stupid they don’t even realize that they can have any image they want as their Freebie-so they ruin every image.
The problem with The Company is a simple one, they are not targeting customers, they are targeting prospects. No one goes to a restaurant and brings a sack lunch to eat with their free glass of water-but that is the business model that The Company has embraced. The Loss Leader, or the Bait and Switch, is the Industry Standard in Assembly Line Portraits. It works, but it doesn’t work as well as it used to. The Company is so married to this form that it can’t even conceive of any other promotions. They do everything they can to hide the fact that we sell portraits-am I the only one that thinks there is something wrong with this picture?
The Company, in it’s endless quest to keep employee morale as low as possible, has send all the Photographers reports detailing how poorly we are doing at taking those perfect portraits-except for the one FNG who is actually doing all the stuff they want all of us to do. He gets a little pat on the back for being such a perfect little drone. Curiously, this top dog of the technicals is not the top money maker, nor does he have the best sales average. The best money is at the best accounts-as I may have mentioned once or twice.
One of the fringe benefits of being an Assembly Line Portrait Photographer is the freedom that come with the job. There is no boss standing over your shoulder telling you to do this or that. There are some guidelines that need to be followed, but until now, they have not done much in the way of forcing us to follow those guidelines. We like to think we are our own little bosses-which The Boss is quick to remind us is not the case-we work for The Company and have to follow their rules. The fact that we now have people breathing down our necks demanding that we follow The Processes is a bit of a bother.
On the plus side, I did beat out everyone else, including the hotshot FNG, in one area-I had the high score for backgrounds. Woot.