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Who is Doing What Where?

  1. Johannah Sentenn
    I'm dying to know who is shooting film portraits, particularly medium- and large-format, and making a living doing so out there. We're hard to find on the net, at least for me (computer dummy that I am). If you're doing this, successfully or unsuccessfully, let's talk about it. I myself am in the second stage of my 15 year photography career and trying to make it a viable venture. Having a kid has compelled me to finally get over the things that have blocked me thus far, and I'm determined to keep at it.

    Another question: How would a client find a film portrait photographer whose work really stands out from the chaos of all the photography out there right now?

    Johannah Sentenn
  2. bighilt
    Hi Johannah. Wish I knew the answer to your second question. To be honest, apart from a few more discerning clients, I don't think people care and "good enough" is unfortunately "good enough". The problem as I see it, is, in order to put food on the table, I currently have to shoot lots of digital and sell a lot of instant 4x6 inkjet prints at social events etc. Clients love them but it ends up getting you somewhat typecast.
    The goal however is to use those opportunities to display quality b&W film prints and hopefully generate new clients that way.
    I come out of a photo-journalism background (30 years of it) and am slowly getting clients who appreciate a photo taken on FP4+ in either a Rolleiflex or Bronica but I must admit it's a long, hard, uphill slog -- particularly in this economy.
  3. dpurdy
    Yes that is the truth of it. I am now studioless for the first time in 25 years because I just can't afford the rent. I am trying to think about turning my front room in my house into a shooting space. Success in portrait work seems to me more about networking and and being connected to a lot of people. For the general public there is only one question, How much? Quality is such an elitist thing or specialized knowledge. The vast majority of clients care only about the smile on their kids face.
    at least that is my pessimistic view of it. Somehow you have to get people to look at the photography as a true art that needs to be permanent and hanging in frames. Something valuable.
  4. bighilt
    What I am trying to do is impress on people the historical value and significance of particularly portrait photography. That it is a moment captured that will still be visible long after you are gone and that children, grandchildren and future generations will have an insight into their history and roots though it. It is an approach that has been accepted by some people but many others simply could care less. I don't know if it's a South African thing -- we tear down any building older than 50 years and replace it with a chicken or fast-food franchise.
  5. df cardwell
    df cardwell
    A good picture is a good picture, and a good client is a good client. Digital v Film really doesn't enter into it.

    It IS quite handy to be able to proof film on a scanner and show them online, followed up by a meeting with the client !
    Promptness is essential.

    "Success in portrait work seems to me more about networking and and being connected to a lot of people."
    Yep. And successful portrait photographers tend to document the 'lives of their tribe.' It is a tough job for an introvert;
    you have to be methodical about building your network.

    As for being in a tough economy, that turns very easily into an advantage for film users.
    My 1950s Rollei gets better every time film is improved, and it is more than sufficient for any sized print a client could want.
    I don't have to upgrade it, and it doesn't care if I'm using an old version of Photoshop. long paid for.

    Our costs are much lower, and they are easy to amortize. Once a camera is paid for, it has a long working life ahead of it.
    The financial stress of keeping pace with new software, new operating systems, and new cameras, can really only be met by active commercial shooters,
    and for portraitists those costs are crippling.

    Photograph the way you like,
    create a method of making pictures that make the clients happy,
    and get out there and show your work. Have some fun,
    and you'll do quite well.
  6. photoexpedition
    "Our costs are much lower, and they are easy to amortize. Once a camera is paid for, it has a long working life ahead of it.
    The financial stress of keeping pace with new software, new operating systems, and new cameras, can really only be met by active commercial shooters,
    and for portraitists those costs are crippling."

    In our country the software as a rule the stolen. At the same time a film rather expensive. Therefore expenses for a digital photo aloud more low, than on the film. As there is a myth that all digital is better. It is at the bottom of that I am compelled to shoot for the digital technics for an earning. But now I try to offer an analogue photo as way to be allocated from mass and as I do an emphasis on the big durability classical photos.
  7. Christopher Nisperos
    Christopher Nisperos
    Hi Johannah,

    I see that we used-to-kinda-be neighbors; I was born and raised in the Bay Area and my family had a second home up in Occidental, near you, so howdy.

    I think the answer is to change our mindsets from a defensive stance (against digital), to a positive stance. I'm in Paris now and used to run a small studio here shooting only film. I never had a problem selling film over digital (other than time concerns due to production differences, a few times). For the most part, I could deliver a headshot on RC paper the same day or a negative-retouched, commercial portrait on FB paper in two days (with a slight rush charge!).

    Have you thought of using the "retro" aspect in marketing your work? Don't forget "Old Timey" now means the 1970's! Digital has made traditional black & white photography really special..we should be SELLING THAT POINT, not running from it! I was even asked once to shoot a wedding because the customer —a friend of mine— knew I used a Rolleiflex. He hired me, in part, for the "theatrical" aspect! ..He said I looked like a "real" photographer. (free idea to anyone crazier than me: wedding group photos —outside, on church steps— with the photographer dressed in 1880's garb, using a big view camera and a magnesium flash (or something that makes smoke at the same moment a real, electronic flash, goes off...) Anyway, back to reality ...

    What used to work well for me was to clearly explain to a potential client the archival potential of silver-based photography, versus the unknown and unsure conservational aspects of digital photography. This was easily understood by the prospect as soon as I asked this question: "CD's were first presented to the market as being "perfect", but have you ever heard a music CD with dropouts?" You'll always get a head shaking 'yes'. True, a CD is a different medium than inkjet paper, but the point (can new technology, not yet tested in real time, be trusted to preserve your family memories?) was understood. To drive the "inkjet vs traditional" point home-- I used to keep a very old sterling-silver spoon around that I'd found at the Marche aux Puces (flea market!). I would sometimes show it and say, "You see? Silver lasts!" A bit little hokey, perhaps, but I [I]always[I] booked the sitting.

    Today in Paris, Studio Harcourt is an example of classic Hollywood Portraiture which still attracts customers. They get [I]thousands[I] of euros per portrait and it's a mark of prestige, here in France, to be photographed by them. To be completely honest, though, even they have had financial problems over the years. Take a look at this film and you'll understand a bit of their overhead problem.


    Really, sincerely hope this helps you and anybody else in the same boat.

    Friendly regards,


  8. df cardwell
    df cardwell
    Christopher: great post.

    (Here's a story that talks about Christopher's approach:
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