“It’s not the best, but it’s not that bad.” I say.
“No one’s buying them.”
There are five main components to Assembly Line Portraits-on the front line are The PreSeller who books the Shoots, the Photographer who takes the portraits, and the Passers who sell them. At the Home Office is Management and The Lab. The interesting bit is that each of us believes that we are the most important component of an Assembly Line Portraits operation.
From time to time someone has a Bright Idea. These are seldom good, though they sometimes do work towards a short term goal. Most of our ideas are for ways to improving one of the other four groups-and sometimes, if we are feeling ambitious-how to improve all four of the other groups. For some reason most of us want everything we are doing to remain exactly the same for all time.
As a Photographer, I am always on the lookout for poses that are both easy to setup and that people will buy. Thus is the Standard Set born. One shot at a time, tested throughout a month or so, at as many different Shoots as I happen to be working. Working against me in this endeavor are all the other parts of the Company. No one likes change. But at the same time, the Standard Set is like Woody Allens’s Shark, it has to keep moving to survive.
Management wants the Photographers to do new and exciting shots-that they have hand picked for us to do. The Passers like to see new images-if they are instant successes and everyone buys them. The Lab wants the the new image to conform to the rules and guidelines set down for all portraits to be processed-they don’t want to have to touch a single dail-and if I am shooting at F8 while everyone else is shooting at F13, they have to slow down and look at my images before zipping them through the run. When the Subjects get these new portraits, they may have already forgotten that they liked them, or someone else may complain that they didn’t like something similar. So then the PreSeller is mad because his Shoot is filled with unhappy Subjects.
For the most part, I only have to deal with the Passers-and the occasional nasty note from The Lab telling me to knock it off.
While there are hundreds of portraits poses, they all fall into a handful of similar categories. The Photographer can made dozens of subtle changes to a side by side couple shot, but they will all look close enough to the same pose that the Passer and Subjects may not even notice that the heads are closer here, the shoulders are turned there, or the lights have been moved to create that shadow on the face. So I have to go for the Big Change before anyone even notices that I have done anything different.
For a while I shot a lot of Silhouettes-this is kind of a gimmicky portrait, the only place it shows up all the time is in Wedding Photography. But it is an easy shot to setup and when done correctly, it can be a stunning image. Of course, like all other shots, you have to look at the Subjects and decide whether or not it will work for the people in front of you. Not everyone looks good standing face to face. So I tried and then dropped, for the most part, the Silhouette shot.
A while back I bought a copy of Monte Zucker’s Portrait Photography Handbook, a great book with a lot of information in it. One of the shots that Monte loved was the Profile shot, the book is liberally peppered with profile images. He goes into some detail on how to shot a profile shot and how to shot his own brand of couple of profiles, with one of person in profile while the second leans out and looks lovingly at the first.
I also watched the Kelby Training video by Jack Reznicki called One Light Lighting, in which both the single and double profile shot is demonstrated with a large softbox. Jack loves taking five or six shots, just to make sure he got the best one that he could. I liked seeing someone take the portraits better than just reading about them. I also liked seeing someone change things as he went along, whereas so many of the books make it look as if every snap is a masterpiece.
Over the past few weeks I have been taking Profile Shots on every sitting where the Subjects are willing to give it a shot. Most of these shots have been good, a few very good, and one or two not so good. By far the biggest problem I have had has not been with the Subjects, who tend to dislike just about everything on general principal, but the occasional Passer, who tends to hate anything that they haven’t seen a million times before. A few of them have sold and they are very dramatic images, so I am thinking of making them a permanent part of the Standard Set.
I am also found of using a white muslin background and doing belly poses with children and the occasional full length shot. White backgrounds are popular with product shots as well as portraits. But doing a full length shot means pulling the muslin out of it’s bag and having people stand on it-which means you will have to wash it from time to time. And not everyone likes the white background-and the Passers don’t know what to do with a High Key shot anyway. Most of them start off by adding a black vignette. I still like to shoot them anyway.