Photography: Sarah Clark
Photography is a creative art. No two shoots are ever the same, and certainly no two pictures. But photography is also a business so photographers need processes they can work through, routines they can follow and results they can rely on. When you’re shooting for money, you have to be certain you can deliver and you have to be able to do it quickly and efficiently. Clients too have to know exactly what they should expect when you hand over the images if a commission is not going to look like a gamble. The result is that photographers play it safe. They stick to tried and tested methods, and the sort of traditional jobs that make up the core of so many photographers’ businesses can start to become a little dull — both to the photographer and to customers. Some photographers though are looking for new approaches. They’re trying to shoot traditional jobs in new and more interesting ways.
Wedding photography, for example, is the main revenue-generator in many photography businesses. And it’s also one of the most clichéd. The packages are clearly marked out as are the kinds of shots you can offer clients. There might be poses of the couple in full wedding regalia in a romantic setting, perhaps some images of the bride being made up, photographs of the rings and flowers, and lots of carefully posed formals of the families standing in neat lines. It sells, it’s what customers seem to want so photographers who have bills to pay make sure they offer it.
Wedding photojournalists however take a different approach. Instead of trying to corral the wedding guests into the right places and getting in the way of the proceedings in order to get the shot, these relatively new kinds of wedding photographers attempt to make themselves inconspicuous. Using on-camera lighting or natural light, they shoot like news photographers documenting a day rather than as a paid part of the wedding event itself. The result, says the Wedding Photojournalist Association, which accepts just 5 percent of applicants, should be “real moments as they happen for the bride and groom.”
Or they could be very unreal moments too. One trend that has sprung out of wedding photojournalism is “Trash The Dress” (TTD). Instead of shooting the usual romantic images in the wedding outfit just before the ceremony, a shoot is held after the wedding has taken place when the dress can take a few knocks. That could mean anything from riding on a horse to walking through a cornfield but it’s also included climbing into a Mexican cave and shooting the couple in waist-deep water. That’s definitely not your usual wedding photography job.
Shoot Portraits Like Paparazzi
If wedding photography can be clichéd, portrait photography can be just plain cheesy. A stool, a non-descript background, a pose that has more to do with Rodin’s Thinker than the personality of the subject, and a tiny studio in a shopping mall are all it takes to earn a few bucks shooting images that will one day be shelf ornaments. It’s a job. It can bring in a few bucks but it’s a long way from the kind of creativity and originality that draw most camera-lovers into professional photography.
Brooklyn photographer Izaz Rony believes that he has found a way around those formulaic images. Rather than bringing subjects into his studio, or even standing them in a suitable outdoor location, he asks his clients to tell him where they’ll be at a certain time of day then shoots them from a distance. His $500-an-hour service provides clients with paparazzi-style shots that look natural and unposed.
And he’s not the only one offering the paparazzi experience. Celeb4aday provides the whole package, including limousine, bodyguard and publicist. The photography might not be the main feature but it is part of the deal (and the company has recently been looking for amateur and professional photographers to join in the fun. You can drop them a line at [email protected]).
Cool School Photography
The biggest opportunity in portrait photography though lies in schools, where photography companies get to shoot hundreds of portraits in one session. It’s a niche that requires plenty of organization and often some fairly hefty marketing clout to beat off the large firms that already have their foot in their door.
Chris Wunder, producer of a series of school photography marketing DVDs, has told us that it’s possible to generate more than $1,000 an hour shooting school portraits, although not all of that will be profit. Despite these sorts of sums, most school photography tends to be both formal and formulaic: a class sits together on a bench, or a child sits quickly on a chair.
Sarah Clark, a British portrait photographer, tries to take natural-looking images at the one large school and two pre-schools where she shoots.
“My aim is to photograph a child in a school environment where they feel relaxed and capture their personality as well as reflecting the school’s ethos. As a result most of my photography takes place outside,” Sarah says.
The shoot takes place quickly and efficiently so that the children don’t become bored and the school doesn’t lose too much time, she explains, but it’s filled with lots of chat and silly jokes. During the individual portraits, Sarah will often ask a child’s friends to make faces behind her so that the session is filled with lots of giggles and chattering.
“By following this approach with the children, they soon relax with me and my camera, as do the teachers,” says Sarah. “They start to realise that having your photo taken can be fun.”
Many of the photos will be black-and-white although shots of sports teams, nativities and plays are produced in color. Some schools also specifically ask for color photos but most important is that the images are natural, relaxed and match the school’s ethos. Part of Sarah’s marketing package includes allowing the school to use the photos for promotional purposes. Those unusual school photos then have to reflect both the personalities of the children and the character of the school.
That might be a challenge but it’s a lot more interesting than sitting a stream of kids on a stool and producing the traditional school portrait.