3 Things I learned from a Rock Star about The Business of Portrait Photography - Digital Photography School
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3 Things I learned from a Rock Star about The Business of Portrait Photography

rocker.jpeg

Ingrid Michaelson is a singer; I’m not.

She is young, pretty, hip, funny, talented and sings like a extra dirty and extra cold martini on a hot day – smooth  with just the right amount of earth.

No, no, no, I’d like to think so, my mom thinks so and yes I will.

We, Ally, my 17 year old daughter, and I, went to her concert at the Wiltern Theatre on Friday. For a dad, I”m semi-cool like that. 

The band, like most bands, had a lot of stuff: chords, amps, stands,  instruments, guitars lined up according their size, like children waiting for orders on clean up day. It wasn’t U2 at Anaheim Stadium but you would not want to walk that Wiltern Theatre stage in the dark.

The concert started with the band, Ingrid and her 5 bandmates. The music was loud, not Black Sabbath loud, but amped loud with drums and guitars, a little of this, a little more of that. It was fun. The pit was bumping.

Then, the band left; it was just Ingrid and a simple piano, the kind you might have in your home, the one that nobody plays.

Then she hit the first notes of Presley’s Can’t Stop Falling In Love. Everything changed.

Goosebumps had goosebumps. iPhones fired up. This had to get posted. 

She then followed that with “Ghost”. You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but you felt alive.

You were connected. You were part of something special, connected with her voice, connected with the person next to you, connected to strangers.

This is what I learned:

Lesson #1 – People will pay for connection; it’s what’s missing in their lives.

Rock stars make money because they connect. It’s not the music; it’s the connection. It’s making people feel alive, that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. The music is just a way to connect.

Yes, your work is important. Getter better is important. Connection is more important. It’s what you will remember; it’s what your clients will remember. It’s why your clients will come back. It’s why you’re here.

Beautiful work is just a path to the real, lasting goal of connection.

Here is the bad news. If you’re starting  or running a portrait photography business, you’re creating and selling connection. It’s not about the camera; it’s not about your work; it’s not about radio poppers and ttl flash (cool as those are); it’s about your ability to connect with people when you have a camera in your hands.

Your clients are not paying for an 11×14, an 8×10 or a 30×40; they are paying for a symbol of their connection.

Lesson #2 – Most businesses want to be rock band; you might want to be a coffee shop crooner.

Ingrid connected with the audience when she became vulnerable. It was just her, that martini voice and a piano. No pretences. Nothing to hide behind. No fluff. No amps. No costumes.

Do you have extra fluff? Are you hiding behind being professional, being a beginner, being a veteran, beautiful light, a beautiful background… If it was just you, a camera, a 50 mm 1.4 lens and a family of four, could you be vulnerable enough to create an atmosphere of intimacy. Would your images make your goosebumps have goosebumps?

Lesson #3 – You can start now.

You don’t need another lens, a better camera or another radio popper. You don’t need to be better. You just need to put yourselves out there.

Rock stars start somewhere, probably playing for mom or dad. Next, they take over the garage, then a coffee shop or a dive bar on a Tuesday night.

Photograph your kids; Kids are good because you don’t have to pay them and they don’t expect a free 8×10. Next, ask the neighbours. Have them over for a barbeque, give them a glass of wine or two and then ask to photograph their family. They won’t say no. If they do, don’t invite them over again.

It won’t be easy. Putting yourself out there is tough. Being vulnerable is hard.

Nobody said being a rock star was easy but the connections are worth it.

Michael Adams has been a portrait photographer for 25 years. With the growing need for DSLR education and photography business education, he started mamarazziworkshops.com and beaphotographer.biz recently.

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  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    Very well said. That and take a lot more pictures, sometimes they are also a tangible connection to the times spent!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2012/06/satkar-restaurant-thamel-kathmandu.html

  • http://www.wildlifeencounters.eu Steve

    I can equate with the connecting with people.
    I was in Italy in a small town and the people there loved to have their photo taken.
    I took a few shots when they were not looking to get a natural pose.
    When I showed them the results they were so excited. They felt privileged that I had cared enough and taken an interest in them.
    What wonderful people and I certainly connected their:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Street-photography-in-Italy/G0000hUJPPSs5RRA/I0000pO04IaJx6l4

  • http://www.photomint.com/blog Lara White

    I’m a big believer in networking and making connections. It’s absolutely been the foundation of my business as a photographer. Connecting with people is SO important as a photographer-connecting with your subject, connecting with your customers, connecting with others in the industry. Here’s a video about connecting with other photographers and how powerful building those connections can be:

    http://www.photomint.com/photography-business/the-power-of-networking-with-photographers/

  • http://disney-photography-blog.com/ Alexx

    I really like this post. Not only does this apply to photography, but to anything your selling really.

    http://disney-photography-blog.com/

  • http://redspottedpatch.blogspot.com Lysa

    Having grown up with someone who became a rockstar, I could never figure out how he could fill stadiums. Yes obviously his music was popular but he was just, well, the guy we grew up with. But when you said connection…light bulb moment. Yup I get it, obviously he’s a musician but more than that he’s incredibly charismatic on and off the stage. I can see what he’s done and I can see what I need to do-thanks.

  • Steven Dempsey

    Michael, this is such a deep and original take on photographing people. It made me sit up and I was just short of yelling YEAH! YEAH! a few times. There have been thousands of articles written about portrait photography but this is the one I can relate to the most. What you are talking about is wisdom. It’s not something you can have immediately, even if you are good with people. As a portrait photographer myself, I can tell you it takes years to truly understand the pure connection to which you are referring.

    In fact, about 1% of my time is spent making equipment decisions for a shoot and the rest of the time is focussed completely on the subject. My ultimate goal is to make that experience rich and memorable for both me and the sitter. Once that’s achieved, the magic happens. You are suddenly able to capture the essence of the person because they trust you and show a little bit of vulnerability.

    Thanks for the great words and reminding me why I so love what I do.

  • http://energizeyourphotography.blogspot.com EnergizedAV

    Coming from a musician background, when I’m all set to go, I utter “It’s show time” “I’m on.” I love the high, the thrill of “performing” with my instrument The CAMERA. The audience is made up of the subjects, family, onlookers, crew and everyone else.
    Great mix of perspective.
    Thanks, Michael

    http://energizeyourphotography.blogspot.com/2012_03_01_archive.html

  • http://jamesandleighann.blogspot.com Leigh Ann

    This is a beautiful article that strikes a chord with me. I love what you said about a connection. That is so true!

Some older comments

  • Leigh Ann

    June 20, 2012 08:11 am

    This is a beautiful article that strikes a chord with me. I love what you said about a connection. That is so true!

  • EnergizedAV

    June 19, 2012 03:10 am

    Coming from a musician background, when I'm all set to go, I utter "It's show time" "I'm on." I love the high, the thrill of "performing" with my instrument The CAMERA. The audience is made up of the subjects, family, onlookers, crew and everyone else.
    Great mix of perspective.
    Thanks, Michael

    http://energizeyourphotography.blogspot.com/2012_03_01_archive.html

  • Steven Dempsey

    June 18, 2012 02:12 am

    Michael, this is such a deep and original take on photographing people. It made me sit up and I was just short of yelling YEAH! YEAH! a few times. There have been thousands of articles written about portrait photography but this is the one I can relate to the most. What you are talking about is wisdom. It's not something you can have immediately, even if you are good with people. As a portrait photographer myself, I can tell you it takes years to truly understand the pure connection to which you are referring.

    In fact, about 1% of my time is spent making equipment decisions for a shoot and the rest of the time is focussed completely on the subject. My ultimate goal is to make that experience rich and memorable for both me and the sitter. Once that's achieved, the magic happens. You are suddenly able to capture the essence of the person because they trust you and show a little bit of vulnerability.

    Thanks for the great words and reminding me why I so love what I do.

  • Lysa

    June 18, 2012 01:12 am

    Having grown up with someone who became a rockstar, I could never figure out how he could fill stadiums. Yes obviously his music was popular but he was just, well, the guy we grew up with. But when you said connection...light bulb moment. Yup I get it, obviously he's a musician but more than that he's incredibly charismatic on and off the stage. I can see what he's done and I can see what I need to do-thanks.

  • Alexx

    June 17, 2012 06:44 am

    I really like this post. Not only does this apply to photography, but to anything your selling really.

    http://disney-photography-blog.com/

  • Lara White

    June 17, 2012 04:56 am

    I'm a big believer in networking and making connections. It's absolutely been the foundation of my business as a photographer. Connecting with people is SO important as a photographer-connecting with your subject, connecting with your customers, connecting with others in the industry. Here's a video about connecting with other photographers and how powerful building those connections can be:

    http://www.photomint.com/photography-business/the-power-of-networking-with-photographers/

  • Steve

    June 17, 2012 02:04 am

    I can equate with the connecting with people.
    I was in Italy in a small town and the people there loved to have their photo taken.
    I took a few shots when they were not looking to get a natural pose.
    When I showed them the results they were so excited. They felt privileged that I had cared enough and taken an interest in them.
    What wonderful people and I certainly connected their:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Street-photography-in-Italy/G0000hUJPPSs5RRA/I0000pO04IaJx6l4

  • Mridula

    June 17, 2012 02:03 am

    Very well said. That and take a lot more pictures, sometimes they are also a tangible connection to the times spent!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2012/06/satkar-restaurant-thamel-kathmandu.html

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