I have received answers to several questions since joining this forum recently. I never really introduced myself and thought maybe you folks may be interested in an account of the olden days.
Back in 1975 at age 20, I shot portraits. I used Kodachrome 25 slide film. I shot in small towns that were not large enough to have their own photography studio and I did quite well shooting there 2 or 3 times a year.
I used a three man crew. The first man entered the small town and made a reservation at a motel for 2 weeks later. He then placed postcard sized fliers on the counter near the check out register at local businesses. The businesses were eager to allow him to place the fliers. The fliers were simple. The word FREE was in both upper corners in large print. The flier states: In appreciation of your business, this establishment has arranged for you to receive a free 8x10 natural color portrait to be taken at the location listed below. The lower right hand corner was left blank when the fliers were printed so that the crew scheduler could use a rubber stamp with changeable letters to stamp the location and time of the shoot. The location was generally a motel.
The second crew member was the photographer. He checked into the motel on the day scheduled. He slid the bed out of the way and placed a backdrop as far away from the front door as possible. He placed his camera on tripod close to the door. He placed a small bench for the subjects to sit on. He placed a slave flash between the bench and the backdrop to wash out any shadows. His zoom lens allowed him to zoom out for a group or in close for a head shot. His umbrella lights were off to the side. He now had a make shift studio. He also had a card table, small carpet, pillow, and other props which may be necessary for babies or other. He got an early lunch as he would be busy all day and into the evening. He comes back to the room where people are lined up at the door to get their picture taken. He shoots 4 to 8 shots of each subject depending on whether group, individual, or whatever is required. He shoots until there are no longer any people waiting in line outside the door.
I had the film developed into slides and sent a postcard in the mail to the customers advising them to go back to the same location on a certain day to choose their free picture.
The third crew member arrives at the same location and as each customer comes in, he shows them the slides in a large viewer for them to decide which one they want for free. Between a third and half of the people choose their freebie and go home. I later began charging a $1.50 sitting fee to cover the freebies. The portrait was still free. An 8x10 cost me a buck at the time. The rest of the customers chose from assorted packages of a few wallets, 5x7's, additional 8x10s and larger 11x17 or 16x20. He accepted partial or full payment and any balance due was sent COD.
I sent the slides to KT Color Lab in Hollywood, California where they cropped for free according to the marks if any on the slide border frame. They did excellent work and very fast.
I was able to pay three full time employees as well as myself. I generally stayed back at the brick and mortar shop and made sure things operated well. I did this for three years.
I was young and stupid and gave it all up for what I thought was love. Now, 40 some odd years later, having generally had a camera on hand but only as a hobby, I consider buying an enclosed trailer to make a mobile studio. I could go out and earn a thousand cash 3 or 4 times a month if I ever wanted to. On the other hand I am older now and I may just look at it parked out there and never have the time or ambition to actually do it. Still, I am sure I would use it for the grand kids and great grand kids if for nothing else.
Shooting portraits in those days was a no brainer. F11 or F16 (depending on light meter) and sync the shutter with the flash. The skill part was posing them in such a way as to make them buy it.
A lot of time has gone by and a few years ago I bought a Nikon D3300. I had a point and shoot Nikon Coolpix 10 megapixel before that. It was pretty good for what it was. I gave it to my daughter and bought a B700. This week my new Nikon D7500 came. It might be a long time before I out grow this one.
Now I shoot objects to sell on eBay or people and business stuff for a website.
Thank you for sharing your story, Good luck with whatever you choose to do with your camera trailer and kids
Thanks for an insight into your business. I don't think I've ever thought about how those deals worked. Very well organized for 20. Did you work it out yourself or learn it from someone? (I don't mean to be patronizing, but how we learn is a hobby of mine).
It's actually pretty funny how I learned this. I was driving down the road and saw a man in a volkswagon trying to change a flat tire. He didn't have a lug wrench but he had a socket set and he was trying to use the engine to turn the tire to force the wrench to loosen the lug nut. I had all of the right stuff so I took his wheel off and gave him a ride to a place to get it fixed and back again. He asked me what I did for a living and I told him I drove cab. He asked me if I knew anything about photography. I said I took a class in High School. He asked me if I wanted to earn more than I did driving cab? I asked him what he had in mind. He said his boss needed an extra photographer for work that was already scheduled and no one to do it and would I be willing to travel. He said I could come with him on a shoot first and see what it entailed and see if I could do it. So I went with him on a shoot and it was easy enough. I met his boss and his boss told me he would supply all of the equipment if I would help him out of this bind. So I did it for a couple years and decided I could do it myself and keep all of the money so I moved to Tucson where I had a friend to help me and I setup a permanent studio and hired people to travel and did it for another couple years.
I'm a decade earlier than you are, so I read the daily "dead trees" edition of the newspaper to check if anyone I know has shown up in the Obits, along with the rest of my daily read. When you mentioned the absence of a "proper" (my word) portrait photographer in a town, it brought me to think about how many of the Obits I see include a Military Service photo for the men and (I'm guessing) a graduation or some sort portrait for the women usually decades old.
What it tells me is that people for generations haven't felt a need for a quality portrait of themselves. Aside from some occupations and professions like Real Estate and Medicine and Law, we rarely see a published photo of the practitioner or proprietor behind many businesses we deal with daily. While I'm usually supersonic in blaming the Facebook and Instagram generation for this (and anything else, handy), we really have, for a large part, seen a decline in our perception of the value of a quality adult portrait.
I want to be wrong. And I've got the camera(s) and lights, and would love to get the ball rolling just covering my costs and beer money.
I love the story,
I have received answers to several questions since... (
Nice story, I remember doing rodeo's when I was in my 20's. We contracted through the vendor and make sure we were the exclusive photographers for the event. Anyway, black and white film, a dark room in an UN ventilated except for a small fan, and UN air-conditioned trailer. One guy shot, the other guy processed, and his very good looking girl friend put up and sold the 8X10's on a board within 15 minutes of each competition. Out of the 500 + photo's for sale a handful did not sell, we made lots of money. Fortunately I graduated from college and gave this up, if I had not, I know I would have passed away long ago from the prolonged exposure to those chemicals contained in the well confined trailer.
Thank you for posting such an interesting story.
Loc: Florida's East Coast
These days, though, everyone has a camera (on their phone) and everyone considers themselves to be a photographer, and fewer people are willing to pay for photos...
Thanks for the interesting story. I enjoyed it during my Saturday morning coffee.
One of the most interesting ways I ever heard to make a living as a photographer in "the old days" was a method called "kidnapping". This was explained to me by an old timer I worked with for several years. He would take a pony to a play ground, give free rides to the kids and photograph them on the pony. He would then find out where they lived and later take contact sheets or proofs to their home and get the family to buy prints. Said he made a good living that way for several years. One interesting sales tactic was to tear up a rejected proof in front of the parents or grandparents. They almost always bought prints from the next presented proof. Emotionally they didn't want to see their kid torn in half.
I have received answers to several questions since... (
Hey, the good thing is, with the trailer you won't need the hotel room anymore, you can sleep in the trailer!!!
Just make sure you pick up the dirty underwear and socks before the customers come in!!! LoL
I doubt if I would trade a motel bed for a cot in a trailer but events like County Fairs and such would probably allow a mobile studio a money collection point. There is a national book of County Fairs and there is one going on somewhere all summer long. People are walking around half crocked and become loose with their money. With digital, a photo can be printed on the spot. Connect the camera to a laptop and you could even edit a bit with photoshop before printing.
Great set of stories,thanks for sharing guys.
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