I am a portrait photographer, have been for years and really enjoy photographing people, sort of. The thing is, soon as a client comes around and pays a commission fee then things change and it becomes harder to do "my own work". As a rule I do well with this issue but I still feel my strongest portraits are made when there is no commission involved for one reason or another.
I am wondering how anyone else deals with this issue, do you keep your work separate from the rest, or do you try to make your work while on commission. Am I asking for too much? I am not complaining about the commission work exactly, I am glad to make my living doing portraits. I would rather do as I please and sell my work in galleries but people photography and galleries are a hard combination. Commissions are still the best answer, But I am left with this struggle.
Anyone else in this boat?
There's an old saw about commercial and fine artists: every commercial artist wishes he could have the freedom to do his own fine art while every fine artist wishes he could buy lunch. I seem to recall hearing that from one of my art school profs
Actually, I'm loving combining the two so far. I shoot portraits, but in a very 'fine art' sort of way. I choose the location (don't currently use my studio) and the mood of the image is largely determined by the subject (mostly kids). People generally know what to expect from my website and from an initial consultation. During the session, I shoot certain 'safe' portrait images first, and then we play.
I have a gallery opening in February, and many of the images were made during portrait sessions (making sure, of course, that there's a signed model release in place.) I'm just now starting to explore this as a full-time venture (since my company made that decision for me ) and it will be interesting to see if I still feel the same way this time next year!
I'm also a portrait photographer and have been for a long time. I'm certainly not going to give you any advice but I will make a couple of points.
1. I usually try to consult with my clients before the sitting to see them and come up with some interesting ideas. However often I get these ideas during the sitting and if the clothes etc aren't what I visualize then I will suggest we do some other pictures on a different day. No sitting fee.
2. I will make myself assignments and arrange to photograph people I pick, to work on some sort of project. I will approach people I see and explain that I would like to photograph them.
3. I've never really understood the way people seem to need to get into a gallery. If you have great portraits that you want to sell is there no other ways like the internet, designers, etc who would be interested in buying them. Plus there are the gallery type politics and commissions etc. Not for me.
I really think that if we do the first two points I made, then we have the best of both worlds. A client base that pays us to do what we like to do and also a ready made batch of models to do the stuff that we dream up. Seem perfect to me.
If a commercial client comes to you and asks about a project they have in mind, what their looking for and are asking you to do is translate their vision photographically based on your experience and equipment. Because your accepting their confidence you have a responsibility to satisfy their needs even when it compromises your aesthetic viewpoint. Even when shooting with people for your own image inventions not only do you have to adjust to accommodate their comfort and understanding of the concept but also leave room to allow for their subliminal influence to assist your concept. So the truth is we really never have complete control over our personal either. Doing as you please is a great goal but never an absolute when dealing in portraiture. I agree with Michael that unless your part a very select few the gallery road is not the answer. I was talking with Greg Gorman a couple years ago (a portrait person who has shown in galleries all the world) his response, "it's just not profitable" When I showed my portfolio to David Fahey this year his comment to me was "tecknical competency is a given, only 1/2 of 1% exceeds this level of competency to dictate their own terms and be profitable. There are very high priced portrait photographers who go and live with their subjects in an effort to know them well enough to make the connection between themselves and their instuments to the subject. I would say this is compromise, a very effective compromise. They still call these images their own yet it took the efforts of all parties involved. There are some galleries that are willing to accept work hoping for the best( I've been in a lot of them) but I wonder if it's more for the personal gratification of the owner and artist than it is about profitability.
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Yup. That's what it is for me.
I wonder if it's more for the personal gratification of the owner and artist than it is about profitability.
To clarify, I don't do studio portraits. I do everything on location, and typically they are unusual ones. I would not enjoy maintaining a studio and shooting there day in and day out. Also, I think there's a difference between a portrait and an image with a person in it. I don't think of most of my gallery work as being at all portrait-like.
As far as the value of being in a gallery, it's about exposure for me. The more people in my target market who see my work in a positive, fine art setting, the more potential portrait clients I have. (Forgive the poorly constructed sentence there. It's late.)
i do portraits on the side for the most part. every once in a blue moon i get a commission to shoot a portrait, but i tend to keep my portraits separate from the work i do every day (weekly paper and habs/haer work) ...
i'm not sure if it is that i don't want the commission to "taint" the portrait -if someone hires me to shoot something, they tell me what they want, and i do it ... i would rather decide how i want things to look - whether it is some sort of occupational portrait, or a character study.
i used to part own a gallery with a few people, and realize the gallery-thing helps with "exposure" but that is about it. for that matter, hanging work in a café seems like more people see it. unfortunately if a **real gallery** thinks you are a
"café-artist" - forget-about-it, they'll run fast
I guess I have a very different mentality toward portrait work. When I'm hired for a portrait, it's almost always by someone who has been through my website. And I almost always am given total freedom to shoot how I want. I just don't experience people telling me how they want the portrait to look. I do ask; every now and then someone will have a particular location in mind. More often than not, their response is, "I just want you to do your thing like the images you have on your website."
if someone hires me to shoot something, they tell me what they want, and i do it
That's why I don't mind doing portraits.
As to the question of the client telling you what they want, that is a decision that you make before you agree to photograph them. Personally I, and it seems Cheryl, don't photograph people who tell us what they want. We have a certain "style" to our work and if someone wants something different that I don't feel like doing I would tell them to look elsewhere. It's never happened though.
Sorry, it happened once that some dear soul wanted me to take a picture of their child with wings on. You know those insipid looking "angel pictures". So I said you mean wings like on a chicken, why would you want your child to look like a chicken. Anyway I sent her to the mall.
What I have contemplated doing lately is to have a client come in, photograph them, not show proofs, just produce one print in whatever size that I like and that is that. Here it is. $5000.
Reminiscent of paintings. They didn't show proofs, and say do you like this one, how about this one. They just did the portrait and that was it. Take it or leave it.
Actually, I kind of do that now. When they come to see the proofs, I usually have a 16x20 or 20x24 that I like, already done. They usually buy it. But it would be fun to not show proofs.