by Skip Cohen
The last few years have been tough for everybody in professional photography. It's not just technology and the economy, but the shift in consumer trends.
Every day there seems to be another story that challenges the industry. Last week's announcement of the Chicago Sun Times dropping their photography staff and teaching reporters how to use their i-phones left us all shaking our heads. Then, the week before we had the comment from the CEO at Yahoo.
I remember Sears letting go of their in-house photography staff and deciding to go freelance fifteen or so years ago. And children's photographers were forced to accept the challenge when companies like Sears and Kmart opened children's portrait departments right in the store in the 70's. Four years ago Walmart announced it's own wedding department and even WPPI two years ago had Costco as a lab exhibitor.
Over and over again everyone's dedication to the craft gets tested just a little more. Fortunately, we're all tough enough to weather the storm and hopefully realize this kind of stuff will always be happening in our industry. I'm not minimizing the challenges in any way. I hate hearing stories like these, but when stuff like this happens, you have to look at everything you're doing to strengthen your business and your skill set.
There is a growing group of photographers who have been working hard to find "new cheese". That statement won't make an ounce of sense if you haven't read Who Moved My Cheese? The summary is simply the mouse who went out and looked for new cheese found more food and survived, but the one who refused to change habits and just waited for the cheese to be put back starved.
I'm convinced, as are thousands of professional photographers, part of the answer is in diversity in your business model. It's tough to be a one trick pony in this economy, but a little diversity brings in new clients, new applications and challenges your skill set.
Have you thought about the high school senior market? You don't need the entire school system, just a handful of enthusiastic seniors. But you need to do it right - and nobody does it better than one of our own SCU faculty, Kirk Voclain. Check out his faculty page and images. Then there are photographers like Larry Peters and this year's president of PPA, Ralph Romaguera, just to name a couple more. Check out the look and feel of their images - all different, but each with his own style. You can catch all three of these great photographers on the speaking circuit and it will be well worth your time to pick up ideas on how to get started with seniors.
Here it comes, my annual use of my own senior shot!
It was a LONG LONG (notice the use of double "longs") time ago I had my senior shot done. And, as always, I want extra points for having the nerve to share the image here!
Notice how the glasses hid the unibrow. My left ear used to stick out even farther than the one you can see, but that's the way it was. The photographer came into the school and sat us down one at time, knocking off the entire senior class in half a day. Photographs came in an envelope with the usual combo of 8x10's, 5x7's and wallets. Everybody's images looked exactly the same.
In fact, while everybody's mother wanted the 8x10 shot, it was the wallets that we all shared with each other, like kids today with Pokemon cards!
Today, it's all about personality and capturing who the subject is as an individual. You still have to know how to do a more traditional head shot, but for the most part it's about the interests of the senior. It's about capturing who they are more than how they look. It's about their hobbies, friends, achievements and their aspirations.
Most important of all, think about the impact you might have on a future client. In most cases a full portrait session for a high school senior will probably represent the subject's first truly professional photographic experience. If you do it right, it might just open the door for future business from Mom and Dad or the student themselves. After all they more than likely are going to get married some day or have other needs for a professional photographer.
Photographing seniors and doing it well expands your skill set, forces you to learn and understand lighting/posing, even photojournalism and best of all gives you an opportunity to fine tune your creative skills! It's not about survival of the fittest any longer. It's about survival of the most diverse and most creative.
Photo Credit: © Rido - Fotolia.com
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.