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Thursday, 03 February 2011


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Apropriate article. I am thinking of refocusing my website (I have two or three wedding images). However, as a "wall art" photographer, do you think it would interest potential clients to see your growth and change over your career?

Touché Mike. I just recently came to that conclusion. I've shot plenty of weddings, but never on a regular basis. The style of my wedding photography appeals to a narrow audience, so I've decided to stop advertising weddings or portraits and narrow my focus to what I do and like the most. I knew I'd have to commit all to weddings to make it worthwhile. I don't like weddings THAT much!

My word. How timely. I have exactly zero Wedding photographs in my portfolio and yet yesterday I got asked to shoot a wedding. A classic Cousin Mary situation you would say.

So I'm caught between saying yes and worrying about whether I could make a good job of it and saying no and seeming to be either a spoilsport or above that kind of thing.

Would the best solution be to suggest why they shouldn't use me and use a more experienced photographer instead ... and also suggest I could perhaps do back-up shots or informal shots. Or would this latter suggestion step on certain toes? Hmmm. Argh!

I am in complete agreement, and will add that there is a flip-side to this as well. I have NO wedding photography in my online portfolio, I even state on my site that I no longer photograph weddings and why, and yet I still get inquiries. Very often, the inquiries sounds the same: "I know you say you don't do them . . . . I am on a budget . . . " I always encourage the bride to seek out a WEDDING photographer who also can guarantee he/she has a backup photographer (or a few) in case something happens to him/her.

Thanks, Mike. It's gratifying to see my work and philosophy about work posted on your site. I put my first blog entry up today, and there are seven more in the queue. I am following your advice to keep it simple. Again, thanks for the chat last week.

Steven House,
You can do what I do and offer to be the second photographer. That is, you'll volunteer to photograph at their wedding as long as they go ahead and hire a regular wedding photographer too.

It's nice to shoot that way. It takes the pressure off, and it means you can offer a more personalized, "friend's" view of the proceedings, without having to worry about the standard shots like the cutting of the cake and the portrait of aggressive Aunt Maybeline with the bouquet, etc., etc., etc.

(Oh, and that way you don't do a "real" wedding photog out of a job, either.)


P.S. My other trick would be to say, "Oh, I'd love to do your wedding, and it's no problem on the price, I'll do it for half price just because it's you. So that will be $7,500." Well, at least I've always wanted to say that. I've never actually had the nerve to say it to anybody.

As a 40-year "amateur" street and art photographer, I have been cursed by not focusing my portfolio as Mike suggests. And that's what I get told at every portfolio review.

I recently had my first show, "The Nature of Cities" in a NY bar. It killed me, but I put together 20 images in a single theme, a single aspect ratio, a single print size. Artistically, I think that made a big (positive) difference (financially is another matter) - but it pained me to show off only 1 consistent genre of work. At the opening I cheated and put up a 15" electronic photo-frame showing off a variety of work.

I wanted to be Ansel Adams, or at the least Henri Cartier-Bresson. I would look on the internet and go to shows and see amazing photos by great and unknown photographers alike and say to myself, "I can do that, it's easy..."
The thing is though I really loved taking pictures of my daughter, and after a bazillion photos of Pikes Peak or street photos that, in my opinion were out of this world breathtaking, my friends would look at my "masterpieces" and then see the photos of my daughter and ask me if I would take pics of their kids. They would then refer me to people that pay me real money to do the same.
I still consider the child portraits that I take to be snapshots, but this side work buys me about 3 lenses and a new camera every other year and I truly enjoy making people happy. What I really want though, is to make a portfolio of what I consider to be masterpieces... The portfolio that Mike would call a mish-mash of Jack-of-all-trade photos, and further, I want to make money with those. I wonder how many photographers out there have their main income coming from art that they're great at, but their dream portfolio has, "this is what I can do, and you will love it even if you don't realize it right now."
I ramble, but you struck a chord with me Mike; I have my income portfolio, but my mind's eye has my perfect portfolio.

Your article made me laugh, years ago I put up a web site for my VERY CORPORATE PHOTOGRAPHY, I thought it was clear, even had a client list of blue chip corporations. First response was for passport photos, GRRRR!!, then,,,,Do you do weddings, AAAAGH!!!. After a few weeks I pulled it down. Recently a friend of my son started a web business and I thought I would be his first customer and we created a TOTALLY CORPORATE site, First request was a polite call to say they liked the site and the photos but did I photograph kids,,,@#%$& again.
I am going to let the thing hang out there and try to measure how many other types of photography I am asked for. Was hanging out a shingle back in the day any more sucessful.

Love the shots and I am actually inlove with dogs. I have my own pictures of my two beautiful dachshunds. I think dogs has the most innocent face and very cute one I must add.

In the '80s I was doing very plain, 35mm B&W portraits, natural light but plain backgrounds (usually).

When I placed that Yellow Pages ad, the very first call I got was from a woman who wanted me to do a portrait of her two tiny dogs. I asked her if she had a style in mind, and she said yes, she could show me an example of what she wanted. I went to visit her at her house. The picture she showed me was a hand-colored print of two dogs with large bows on their heads.

I had never even tried hand-coloring. Plus, the two little devil-dogs in question would not stop barking at me. I gently explained that that just wasn't the kind of work I did. I needed the work but I turned the job down. The lady was rather miffed with me, as I recall.


Sounds to me like the cosmos is trying to tell you something, but you're not listening!


Loved the dogs but Rosinsky did have one cat photo in there. Shame....
And with all those handsome pooches, why do we dress them up???

Does Flower Girl At A Wedding count?


Of course, there is the wrong way to market yourself, which may not be as commercially successful, but sure brings the laughs when you have other pro photogs over for dinner...

I have really worked hard to become the best at this.

Like my recent sit down with a potential client in which I showed a wedding catalog of pure, grainy black and white reportage (I had gotten the tip from a friend they were brooklyn 'type' where the boys and the girls both wear the same thing, down to the beret). I figured I was good to go, they had to be sick of the normal stuff. First questions they asked: "How much extra for color?" + "How come nobody is posed?"

Alas, a nickel for all the "wrong" folio's I've shown.

I was the second photographer at my brother's wedding. Alan and Jane were very pleased. My other brother Steve wasn't quite so impressed because he didn't appear in any of my pictures. Not one. Not even a bit of an ear in the background.

One thing I learned from the day was to get a copy of the day's schedule. I was caught out when Alan and Jane left the reception far earlier than I expected.

Yeah , I'll do weddings , but only , you know , the right kind of weddings ...

The right kind of bat mitzvah too ...

Hmmm. This as opposed to "have one aerial photo"? :)

I've shot a few weddings as only shooter and had happy clients, but nowadays I'd be much happier being second shooter doing informal stuff. Suits me and avoids the client the risk! I wouldn't seek it though, and am happier being a well equipped guest.

This weekend I'm doing a bit of pro-bono product for a friend, as she needs some help getting a business going. Back to lights and stuff - guess I'll need to read a bit of David Hobby on Friday night:)


Of, I should have said. I don't really seek payment these days. Having fun and enjoying what I made is good enough reward. I have a day job that creates sufficient pressure on its own.

I'm not a pro photographer, but this sounds like very good advice.

I recently read through around 80 CV's / resumes for a position. The first pass through rejected over 60 as in my judgement the candidates had no consistency of career path, but instead had moved around the job market doing a broad and unrelated variety of things. The second path removed another 15 or so who were not able to demonstrate a path of continuous improvement from basics to mastery within a consistent career path. That got me my shortlist of half a dozen to call for interview.

My selection / rejection criteria are certainly open to criticism, but if I'm going to be spending a reasonably large amount of money on someone, I want to be assured that they know what they are doing for the specific role I have, and are the best that I can afford for that position. I'd apply the same criteria to choosing a photographer.

Does portfolio = website?

If so, an obvious improvement might be to have multiple domains for different genres, so you can gratify the urge to try various styles yourself but at least look consistent to anyone viewing any one site?

I also worry that one might split genres down into subjects & styles too quickly, and become specialist at making photos "of dogs looking upwards, eating a dentastix, with the light coming from the right" only. Over-specialize, and people will start asking "what difference does it make if it's my dog when the shots all come out the same?".

There are portfolios and then there are portfolios. I always used to keep one for potential clients for my freelance business when I had a studio, that was far more focused than the one I needed to keep when I was applying for the occasional "dream-job" working for someone else. When I eventually got into managing large internal studios for corporations, I wanted to see portfolios from possible future employees that showed they could do what we were doing, as well as a little personal work that reflected their interests. This is even more confusing when trying to decide what to put on one web-site, or even if you should have multiple web sites vs. multiple pages on one site.

But, I have to say, there's really no judging what an art director or potential client (or employer) will respond to. I was always amazed at what the art director would select out of the contact sheets of a shoot as the "killer" pic, vs. what I though was the best; sometime they weren't even close.

In many cases, a very focused portfolio might ensure that you will get work exactly like you want to do, and the people that like your work, will be the people you would like to work with, but unfortunately none of those people live within a thousand miles of you and you will never work! Be careful to understand fully the market you have to sell to! Oh, and by the way, if you think people are flying you into San Francisco from East-Jesus Wisconsin because you're a photographic genius they just have to have, forget it. So many people are now photographers, you can generally get anything done anywhere you want, at any price you want, within a few miles of the ad agency. The only reason anyone gets flown around now is because you've already built the relationship with previous work, or you're Annie L.

Every creative is held captive by the "taste" of the market they sell to. If you've spent your life educating yourself on every artistic movement in photography, and developing your style based on those years of education: you may be very sad when you go to sell to the average person that wants to buy your "vision". Having spent some of my career living in a city that was not in the top twenty of population, it was amazing to me when I told people I was a photographer, they assumed I meant weddings, no matter what their educational level was. When I lived in Washington DC, they assumed photo-journalist. The level of sophistication of the people you are showing your portfolio to is going to greatly reflect what they're going to get out of seeing it. Over my lifetime, I've heard millions of stories of the old "I showed them this and they hired me and then they wanted this". All too common, and again, understand the sophistication of the people viewing your work. On a professional level, I can sadly say it's lower than it's ever been in my previous years.

If you're not a "real pro", and you're picking up photo work around the side, as a previous poster stated, you'd be wise to face-to-face the potential clients and see examples of what they want, and then decide if you want to do it. Better to turn down a job than practice your "vision", and have an unhappy client bad-mouthing you to all their friends.

What we can all wish for is to get a few good clients that like what we do, like working with us, and are fun to be with, and somehow we can cobble a middle-class living out of it.

BTW, I have friends that teach photography in a large respected university, and they've been telling me for a few years now, the average wedding photographer is a smart looking hipster woman in their 20-30's, that dresses funky and is at the ceremony to enhance the event with their presence! The photography is almost secondary. You could be a photographic genius, but if you're a dumpy looking doofus in a ill fitting Mens Warehouse suit and unkempt beard (or face hair at all!), and you've just sprayed Binaca in your mouth after chain-smoking in the car before meeting the potential client, good chance you'll never get hired...

You have one problem. Your memory is too good.


But seriously. It really depends on what you want your portfolio to do for you. I would distinguish between showing focus and showing capabilities. Pictures that communicate capabilities that most photographers don't have serve to distinguish your book and make it memorable, which is usually good.


I'm not an expert on this (or much of anything else really) but it seems that this portfolio primer meshes well with your previous article on technique: once you've established your chosen technique the hard work of creating your photography begins; similarly, just as once you discern your preferred market you must tailor and continually update your portfolio to cater to that market. One hand washes the other.

I've only shot one wedding; My own!

I only shoot people but I don't particularly like wedding photography so I wasn't up for paying for one. We'd already been together sixteen years when we married(you've got to make sure she's the one right?) so the old girl trusted me and as there was only ten of us there I felt I could manage it. A tripod, a bit of direction and patient friends made it really enjoyable. 2.5 years later we're still married so I must of done something right

My brother asked me to shoot his wedding on 10/10/2010 and be his best man! I told him it was one or the other but that he should really get a wedding photographer. I ended up as the best man and my brother spent £600 on a photographer that at best was pretty standard, but mainly poor.

I may not like wedding photography, but a good wedding photographer is worth every penny to those that want one.

Mike, kidding or not, it is kinda problem. I don't want to shoot the same stuff again and again, cause it all then starts looking exactly the same to me. And then I think everybody else notices it. :-/

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to take a couple of photos of an almond in bloom. :) Yep, they are already starting.

This is great advice. Another reason it's good not to include one or two examples of a particular genre (weddings, portraits of children, etc.), is that some people are going to want to hire a photographer who specifically does *not* work in that area because they want a different approach. e.g., A couple wants a photojournalist to shoot their wedding because they want candids and don't want a traditional look. In that case, the one or two examples won't help and might hurt. (Of course, whether you want to accept work outside of your field is another matter.)

I have photographed only one wedding; it was relatively small and for a friend. When he and his bride to be asked how much I would charge I told them nothing, this was my wedding present to them. I made a nice wedding album and gave them a second book with ALL the remaining prints.

The only professional application of “jack of all trades” photography is when you are a newspaper photojournalist. You are expected to be able to shoot anything, anywhere, under any conditions, with no assistance, no budget, no planning and on deadline! I’ve been in this world for over a dozen years and you have to have a lot of tricks to get this kinda work.

If you are staff newspaper photographer your daily assignment sheet would very likely look like this:

8am: Go to the lake and get pretty feature shots of teams preparing for the weekend boat races. (Possibly landscape-ish photography)

10:30 Do portraits of hot new chef and do shots of the dish that is featured in the sidebar. (Lit environmental portraiture and food photography)

12:00 Cover protest rally at town square regarding Mayor’s current scandal. (News/documentary photography)

2:00 Do shots of completed renovations to local historic building. (Architectural photography)

3:30 Make photos of hot new gadget in studio for our upcoming tech guide. (Product photography)

7:00 Shoot city rivalry football game between Central and NorthWestern. (Sports photography)

But unless you are working for the newspaper you are expected to be some sort of specialist. That doesn’t mean that the average person out there understands that. I was doing some architectural interiors last week and the owner of the place asked me if I would do portraits of him and his dog. Sure if the price is right!

So I have multiple printed folios that I can pull for a prospective client all depending on who they are and what they are looking for. I keep a variety of “folios” on my phone for that 30 second elevator pitch.

“Uh, yes I’m a photographer. What do you need? Oh sure! (Open photo gallery on my phone) Here are some samples of what I’ve done. (flip-flip-flip) Great. Here’s my card. Give me a call and we can arrange the details. Nice to meet you!”

But my various folios are strictly one kind of work. Otherwise you confuse people.

One more reason not to include a wedding shot in your portfolio.
Picture yourself in Burbank South Dakota, in the dead of winter, banging on a trailer door and having a voice from inside yell "get the hell out of here, you ain't gettin no money, she run off on me!".
For better or worse it drove me straight into the embrace of the fourth estate.

I agree with finding your niche market and your own style too. Even though sometimes what you are best at is not what can make your living financial (artistic nudes or fashion if you live far from cities)...but definitely the client needs to see more then couple of images to get objective judgement of your abilities.

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