With every new photo shoot I walk in to, I try to be mindful of two things. First, I’m trying to create memories a family can cherish a lifetime. Second, This might be the last ‘professional’ photograph ever taken of someone.
Now, I’m not a doom-and-gloom kind of person – and these thoughts are tucked in the farthest, back corner of my mind…But as a professional photographer I think it’s important that I remember what my client’s are paying me to do – create lasting memories their family can treasure for generations.
And let’s face it – tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us. I’ve been fortunate that my stories of loved-ones passing (up to this point) have been about grandparents. But I was reminded of the fleeting nature of life a few weeks ago when two sisters (just four and five-years-old) were taken from this world much too soon.
This notion of a ‘last photograph’ didn’t dawn on me until one of my brides contacted me a few years ago telling me that her grandmother had passed away. She wanted to know if I could get her a copy of the family photograph I’d taken after her ceremony, because it was the last photograph they’d had as a family.
In an age where photography seems so superficial, and everyone with a digital camera thinks they’re a photographer; moments like this remind me why my job is important – and that I really am leaving a mark on this earth.
And speaking of this digital-age of photography where everyone with a camera thinks they can take a well-lit, well-composed, well-staged photograph…nothing saddens me more than when clients are only interested in the “disc.”
I feel the need to put quotation marks around the word, because it really has become such a huge part of the photography industry. Everyone wants the disc, because they have these grandiose plans of going to Shutterfly, or Wal-Mart, or Walgreens and printing copies of photos for mom and dad, or designing their own wedding album. This saddens me on a multitude of levels – none of which has anything to do with money. Because to be perfectly honest, it is much easier and cheaper for me to burn a disc for a client than it is to design, order and deliver an album.
This saddens me first and foremost, because there are thousands of people – probably at this very moment – paying for poor-quality images just because they want inexpensive pictures on a “disc.” Brides, High School Seniors, Soon-to-be-Moms – please, please, please ask your potential photographer if they use a professional lab to print their portraits. Ask them if they use professional software to design your albums and collages. Ask them if they use software to retouch your images. If they can’t answer – yes – to one of these questions, put your money back in your pocket and call a family member to take your pictures. It will save you money and you will end-up with the same product. But remember, you don't get married, graduate from high school, or bring your baby home from the hospital everyday. These are the moments in life you want to have high-quality photography to remember in fifty years.
The second reason this saddens me is because I would venture to guess that ninety percent of the time those “discs” people are so interested in end-up sitting on a desk somewhere, or tucked in a drawer, where they will never see the light of day. Does grandma get her 5x7 for the mantel? Probably not. You know how I know this? Because I’ve got that same pile of discs.
Yesterday I was cleaning out my filing cabinet and I found a stack of discs of photographs Bianca and I have had taken for commercial modeling work. These are gorgeous photographs, taken by some of the best photographers in Cincinnati – and where are they displayed? In the bottom of my filing cabinet. I pulled a disc out from a shoot that Bianca and I did for Al Lang, a wonderful commercial photographer in Cincinnati.
Photo By Al Lang (How precious is her little hand resting on my cheek?)
The photographs are not only adorable, but they document a fleeting time in life – when my now big girl was still my baby. I caught myself wondering, why don’t I have these photographs designed in a collage hanging on the wall in her nursery (I mean ‘big girl room’ now that I've waited two years to do anything with the pictures)? I’ll tell you why – because I’m a busy mom! Because as much as I have good intentions, I get caught-up in my day-to-day life and I forget to print pictures for my mother-in-law’s mantel. (And, I also fall into that category of 'lacking in my job when it's for my own family' category. My favorite example of this is my brother-in-law who's an electrician but is just now fixing a wire that's been hanging out of my sister's wall for fifteen years. I'm guilty of being more concerned about my client's memories than my own - and this is something I'm trying to work on. I'm happy to say I FINALLY got my mother-in-law pictures of my girls for her mantel.)
This is why you hire a professional photographer, because we’ll not only take your portraits, but we’ll design, order, frame, and help you hang your artwork in your home.
The third reason the digital “disc” era of photography saddens me is because as nice as it is to have instant gratification from a place like Walgreens or Wal-Mart (if you’re ambitious enough to make it to the store to print your images) is that you’re not going to get a nice quality product at a chain store.
Two weeks ago, my husband’s grandmother passed away peacefully in her bed. She was 95 years old, had lived an amazing life, and was finally not suffering from the stroke and dementia that had put her in a nursing home. About a year before she passed, we got our whole family together to take a family portrait. While Mamaw was still able to leave the nursing home, we brought her to my in-law’s house and I took a small photograph-of the thirty of us! Once again, the images were saved on a disc and filed away in my infamous filing cabinet.
On the Friday after Mamaw passed away, my cousin called me to see about getting a print of that family photograph for the funeral – because it was that ‘last photograph’ of Mamaw.
I didn’t have a photograph. I had a disc. Now, how many people at the funeral home were going to pick up that ‘disc’ and say, “What a beautiful family.” Not a soul – that’s who.
I thought I would have time to get a print ordered from my printer – because they are awesome about turn-around – but Chuck reminded me that the funeral was on President’s Day and the mail wouldn’t run.
“Can’t you just take the disc up to Wal-Mart?” Chuck asked.
“No,” I replied. “Because this photograph is sized to be a 5x30 (to fit our large family) and Wal-Mart doesn’t print 5x30. If I tried to fit it on a regular 8x10 our heads would look like pencil erasers.”
I could have kicked myself -I did internally.
Fortunately, I’d designed an album for all the kids to give my mother-in-law for her birthday – so we were able to place the album on a nice stand for people to see. And how many people do you think came over, flipped the pages of that album, and said “What a beautiful family.” Almost everyone that came through the funeral home – that’s who.
Because as nice and convenient as digital technology is to our lives, nothing will ever replace the feeling, the emotion, the love in a tangible photograph that people can touch, hold and admire.
A picture is only worth a thousand words if it’s on display for people to see.