View Full Version : Educating Clients on Value of Unique Film Portraiture
10-09-2009, 06:54 PM
I'm a diehard medium-format film photographer of people in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ten years ago I was in the higher-end market among photographers. I left photography for a corporate job and just returned to again this year to a much different climate. I can't believe how crowded the photography market has become with the digital age, nor can I believe how many digital portrait photographers are willing to give their work away for pennies. My work with clients is very time-consuming and expensive, as you film-folks well know. I don't make money on my sittings--rather, I charge for my prints ($200 and up depending on size of image).
I'm seeing a lot of visually pleasing portrait work out there done by digital photographers, but the images from website to website seem very homogenous. And quite altered with Photoshop.
I'm a firm believer in the value of slow photography and the beauty of the details in reality. I'm finding myself in a professional world so different from what everyone else is doing that I don't know if I'm becoming more special and valuable or simply insignficant and unmarketable. I'm not willing to do my work for less money.
Those of you selling film portrait work to a higher-end market--how do you talk about your work to clients? How do you convey the value of what you do? And where do you the see the future for us?
Thanks for reading this if you made it this far!
10-09-2009, 07:10 PM
I am in exactly the market you're talking about. The answer? I mostly let my work speak for itself. If people want my work, they have to come to me, period. I try to explain the value of what I do on my website, so people who don't "get it" don't call me.
10-09-2009, 07:15 PM
I'm taking a little different track toward high end portraits.
First I charge enough to stay in the black on the sitting, this weeds out the looky-loos.
The second big idea I sell is that the print is a hand made original.
The third idea is to sell to fill a particular space in the client's home.
10-09-2009, 07:20 PM
I will be honest; while it's important and valid to explain to people the value of a timeless hand-crafted fiber print, the majority of the public will not book you based on that. They will book you based almost solely on your personal photographic style, providing yours looks different enough from the pack to make them want YOU specifically. If a digital shooter's style happens to please them more, they will generally not learn toward you on the basis of the hand-crafted print.
If your work is not unique and strong enough, no amount of extolling the benefits of the print will convince most of them.
Mark, I don't disagree with your three ideas, however my response is as follows.
first idea: Of course, you will need to charge enough on your sitting fees to not lose money should someone never order enlargements.
second idea: As explained above.
third idea: Yes, however digital shooters do the same thing, so there really is not a particular edge over the digital masses there.
10-09-2009, 08:47 PM
I find this interesting...currently for paid work I shoot digital. But for personal stuff, I am shooting mostly B&W film. This is mostly to learn the medium and find what films I like and so on. I have plans to build a dark room in the near future and continue with the process of learning the craft. I have so far nailed down several films and developers that are producing results that I like with scanned negatives. I am shooting with an RB67 right now.
The reason that this is so interesting to me, is because on of my plans is to graduate to 4x5 (maybe bigger) and bring that into my business as a unique (its sad when a photographer using 4x5 for portaits is "unique") offering for portraits. I have a ways to go to be able to bring this to such a level. I am working toward making my film work to set me apart from what is out there right now in my area. I am just not there yet, and do not have my own darkroom to best control my work.
I must say what Cheryl (of whom I am a big fan) says makes sense.
10-09-2009, 08:52 PM
One of my recent portraits.
10-10-2009, 12:19 AM
I find that I get the best response when potential customers are actually viewing my larger b&w prints in person, after they have viewed the work of several digital photographers. A website image is ok but it will not define the difference in quality to them.
Johannahs use of the word 'slow photography' is a great! After all, people will spend much more on slow food than on fast food.
10-10-2009, 12:21 AM
I do think that we film photographers need to be prepared to explain to clients the difference between digital and what we do. Most people don't understand the difference and thus won't understand the cost of shooting film and printing by hand, regardless of whether they love our work uniquely. There is such a vast difference now between what I charge and what other digital portrait photographers charge that clients will need more than just a liking to my style--they'll need to understand that the actual process and product is different. I suspect that digital technology has made it quite easy for photographers bad at business to further ignore the costs of their equipment, time, and talent, as their individual shoot cost output has diminished.
And then there's the subject of how clients in our particular culture feel about realistic images of themselves...that's another forum I'd love to spend a month discussing! With film, you don't have the ability to reconstruct reality and drastically alter the human image, something becoming so common in the media and commercially that I wonder how it's affecting client expectations of commissioned work. Will clients eventually rebel and clamor for something more authentic? Or will we come to expect mythical images of ourselves as we wish to be?
Will film photography become more in demand or become too uncomfortable a mirror for people to look through?
10-10-2009, 12:23 AM
By the way, Jason Hall, gorgeous photograph. Very narrative and stunning. Please post a link to your website?
10-10-2009, 08:17 AM
I don't disagree with you either Cheryl. The D vs A argument is just pretty window dressing as far as the client is concerned.
Of course selling "the experience" is another fashionable buzz phrase right now. Fancy furnishings, warm cookies, espresso on demand, and general a** kissing, are also just window dressing on a portrait factory.
Many, but not all, high end clients expect these things, but that fluff is only a requirement if that's the market one of us chooses to market to.
If we pick a different market then a mountain bike, a Holga, and an sb80 plus the ability to start and cook on an open fire might become the required fluff.
Our individual styles need to reflect our individual strengths and vision. As you rightly say, the particular style/product we offer needs to be strong. A strong style/product gives us something to sell and something for our clients to brag about.
Content is important but it doesn't necessarily define our style; a simple, standard, old school, nothin' special, underclass setup pose placed in a heavily worked green carbon, salt, or Ziatype print might be a bigger part of the style/product we offer. That's true even if we hire out the printing part of the artistic process to someone else or if we hire out the camera work and do the printing ourselves or even if we hire out both and just work the client and direct the process.
Part of my artistic vision for portrait work is keeping the client from directing the details; I don't want them picking the poses they like, blah, blah, blah, that's my job. Analog processes make this simple. If they pick me I get to be the artist and I get to deliver a final print that can truly surprise them because they don't get to see any of the intermediate steps.
Analog/Alternative Processes can be important "fluff" that can add mystery and interest to the client's experience.
They will book you based almost solely on your personal photographic style, providing yours looks different enough from the pack to make them want YOU specifically. If a digital shooter's style happens to please them more, they will generally not learn toward you on the basis of the hand-crafted print.
If your work is not unique and strong enough, no amount of extolling the benefits of the print will convince most of them....
10-11-2009, 12:42 PM
For the vast majority of people, it's what they can see that counts. Hand-crafted this and that can support the photography, but it's not enough in itself. I would put the very best darkroom prints you can produce in some very nice frames, and put them in the types of places your potential clientbase will shop. If your printing skills are not outstanding, get a professional darkroom printer to do them - a silver print crafted poorly is no better than an inkjet print made well.
I print pretty well, but I've had some of my largest pieces done by a professional printer (Mike Crawford, www.lighthousedarkroom.com). I've honestly had people ask about buying them as pieces of art, not realising that the photographs were made on private commission for families. It all gets better when they realise that the photograph could be the decoration for their living room, but feature their own children instead.
Hi, I've been 'around' photography for many years without doing much commercially myself... I'm also keen to work with film but have an extensive range of digital gear... I've heard of people using pinhole cameras in their range to shoot weddings as well as 35mm, medium & large format film and digital from 10 megapixels to 60 megapixels... Everyone uses different tools to take the image and there are a multitude of ways to present the image to the client from darkroom print to DVD slideshows and printed albums... There is so very much to learn...
A quote that sprang to mind when I was reading through these posts is: "Nobody ever asks which brush Da Vinci used to paint the Mona Lisa"...
The method you use to create the image that you present to the client is largely irrelevant. The comments about your individual style from other posts are on the money. A client buys your style, your presentation, your talent, your skill... They don't buy your camera or even care very much about how you do your job as long as they get what the want...
Be the best you can be at what you do and learn to market that...
And good luck... Mal...
10-29-2009, 09:33 PM
Thanks for the input, all of you. This new photography landscape is a very interesting one to have returned to after 5 years. I am indeed running in the other direction and just bought a Wisner Technical Field 4x5 and am fully committed to marketing my film portraiture and seeing where it takes me.