A Worthy Investment | Building Value Back Into The Family Portrait

Periodically I still receive calls and emails from people planning vacations to Hilton Head Island and are interested in having a family portrait session on the beach. This is due to my web site and Facebook business page still appearing on the first page for Google searches based on “Hilton Head Photography” or “Hilton Head Photographers.”

Even though I no longer reside on Hilton Head I still see these calls and emails as opportunities, either for referrals or to practice a little bit on educating the customer. Like professional photography, it’s a fine art and if it’s not practiced the skill can get rusty.

This morning (June 4 2013) I had a call from a very nice lady who was planning a group trip to Hilton Head from their home state of Kentucky. She found me doing a Google search (my showing-up in first page results still yanks a few chains amongst my previous competitors). She was interested in locating a Hilton Head photographer who would be willing to shoot a beach portrait session for a modest fee and receive all the images “on disk.” That’s fine. That’s understandable, and I admit there was a time not too long ago when I’d be willing to meet such a request with the stipulation that I would edit the selections and be able to use select samples for my portfolio.
Not anymore, and here’s why, and what I hope through the process of educating the customer in a positive manner came across during this morning’s phone conversation. I’m pretty sure it did because the caller voiced her appreciation at the end of the conversation.

Family portrait photography on Hilton Head Island by Jim Crotty Family portrait sample of mom walking with kids by Jim Crotty

What I provide, as a professional portrait photographer, is both the portrait experience AND the resulting product – the once-in-a-lifetime, custom print enlargement that becomes a cherished centerpiece of the customer’s living environment. In providing the professional portrait experience I bring skill, talent and years of experience. There’s something else too. I bring me. Yes, me. I can’t be duplicated. Not with a competitor who hauls furniture out to a field (not that there’s anything wrong with it but just not me) or the soccer mom with the top of the line DSLR (not that there’s anything wrong with it but just not me). I’m not trying to offend anyone in particular. Honestly I just don’t know how else to say it but just simply call it out for what it is. And I’m sorry to report that there will never be an app, camera or lens to replace talent. Ain’t going to happen.

What I do is take the time to truly get to know my subjects. What is it about their family that’s unique ? How do they interact together ? What is the family “personality?” Those are factors that you just can’t ascertain by showing up the evening of the session and say “ok, let’s go out and get some shots.” The interaction between photographer and subject is a significant portion of the investment. And that’s all before the first frame is exposed. What about professional posing of a group ? I’ve learned recently that there is just as much art in posing and arranging a group or family as there is in managing the light for optimal exposure, knowing camera settings, post edit process, etc.

By simply handing over a disk with printable JPEG’s I was not only cheapening the investment in the experience of the portrait session. The customer deserves better. I deserve better.

The full realization of the value of the experience of the portrait session is in the crafting and delivery of the final print – the custom enlargement that is the culmination of all the fine touches that only the experienced professional can provide, from choice of textured, fine art paper to archival quality mounting materials to choice of frame. I am thankful that I have a relationship with one of the best custom print labs in the country, one which only serves established, professional photographers. They know my work. I know their work. The quality is there and then some.

That was something I made mention of during this morning’s phone conversation, to give some consideration to what is hoped for in the final product. One of the downfalls of social media is that the need to “post and share” has cut the ties between portrait customer and fine art portrait print. That’s a bridge that needs to be rebuilt because what we provide as professional photographers deserves a place on the real wall – the one made of brick and mortar. The product of our work should be placed, viewed and valued just as much as the most expensive piece of family furniture, the one that’s passed down through generations.

Is a disk full of image files the best representation of a family memory and gathering that will only happen just once? Is a disk in a desk drawer worthy of the photographer’s time, talent and experience?

Choose your portrait photographer with care and from the perspective of making a long term investment, because that’s exactly what it should be.

(added note) . . . I’m happy to announce that as of June 28 2013 I will once again be doing business as a professional photographer and workshop leader near my home city of Dayton, Ohio. I will be providing portrait photography services and photography education/workshops from an eight acre farm property – with an historic farmhouse circa 1900 – located in Beavercreek Township in Greene County. I am thankful for the opportunity to have experienced life and work as a photographer on Hilton Head Island, and to gain valuable education and training through the Texas School of Professional Photography while in Frisco, Texas, but I am even more thankful to be returning home with a renewed appreciation for friends, family and the natural beauty of home. My new location will offer unparalleled settings of natural and rural beauty for portrait sessions as well as small group workshops on nature and landscape photography.

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