“Just look at these portraits.” The Passer says and pulls up a sitting from the young Photographer that she worked with the week before. “There.”
“Not bad.” I say as I lean in to look at a group of about twenty-five portraits of a pretty young woman. Headshots, three quarter lengths, full length, floor poses, a couple of low key shoots using narrow lighting and one really nice shot using butterfly lighting. “I’m not sure I would have taken quite so many myself.”
“You think?” She says as she scrolls through portraits. “She was twenty years old! She wasn’t going to buy any portraits.”
As an Assembly Line Portrait Photographer the bulk of the people I see are not exactly super model material. I do get the occasion beauty and I might take a couple of extra shots-if they are with their parents, and especially if they are with a single Dad. Dads with daughters are money in the bank. Pretty young girls on their own, well, not so much.
Usually good looking people are not big buyers anyway. They know they are good looking and likely have better portraits at home. Some of these people will never move past that period in their lives when they were perfect and will forever hate every portrait taken that makes them look like they have aged, which, sadly, we all do.
I have known a lot of younger Photographers who have gone out of their way to take a lot of great portraits of young women. This is not because they think the young women will buy the portraits, it’s because they like looking at the young woman. I have also worked with women who like to look at young men and they have spent more time with them than strictly needed as well.
Time was that I liked spending a bit of extra time with the pretty girls as well, and I do like showing off my portrait taking skills when I have a Subject that I can work with. But I am no longer interested in the girls per se, I am interested in creating interesting portraits. This may have something to do with the fact that pretty young things now look right through me. Maybe that’s why all these Congressmen like flirting online so much.
I take a lot of portraits of single people. Most of them don’t look all that marvelous, but some of them do. I still do my best to make them look good. I take a few more portraits of individuals than I used to, and some of these shots are among my best work. But they don’t buy a lot, so it is mostly just for practice in case I go into the Corporate Headshot business some day.
Older couples is where the real money is. Most young families I see don’t have money to spend on portraits, or don’t have enough money. They do most of their portrait shopping at the Big Box Stores. Besides, they all have those damned cell phones and don’t even consider the absurd idea of paying for a photograph.
And so it is that the end of the line is plainly in sight. Our core audience is dying off and within twenty years, we will simply have no customers. Of course, by then, everyone will be living in The Matrix anyway and no one will need a portrait.
One of the keys to successful portrait photography is someone who thinks they look marvelous, whether they do or not. I see more people with low self esteem, but I also see people who absolutely love themselves. They hop up, run over to the monitor and say something like-wow, I look great! I love working with these people. They like themselves, they buy pictures, and they come around after the sales session to tell me what a great job I did.
For the most part, people take having their portrait taken in stride, as if it were a flu shot or a traffic jam or some other mildly annoying bit of business they have to get over with. These good people may or may not buy. They are not really interested, but if you happen to catch them in the right mood, who knows? I have never been able to tell who will buy and who will hit the door running.
A big part of Assembly Line Portrait work is telling people they look good, they look great, that their portraits are the best you have taken all day, and so on and so forth. Of course, I don’t tell everyone they look marvelous. If someone comes in wearing dirty clothes and surrounded by a small cloud like Pig-Pen from Peanuts, well, I just want them out of my room as soon as possible.
The other day a man came in and I took some great portraits of him. We were at a Good Shoot and just about everyone was buying. But this man just looked at the pictures and said he didn’t see anything he liked. He really did look great in the portraits, but as I may have mentioned from time to time, the quality of the portraits don’t always matter that much.
Of course, telling someone you look marvelous doesn’t always get a smile. People under, oh, twenty-five years old or so don’t get the reference. Billy Crystal had a comedy bit in 1985 in which he made fun of 1960s heart throb Fernando Lamas. Fernando looks pretty marvelous in this classic Hollywood glamor shot.
I love Hollywood lighting, but not everyone is a fan of strong shadows and distracting backgrounds. But hey, trust me, this is what will make you look marvelous.