Yesterday, I had a great conversation with a really nice, 32-year-old mom. She noticed the big ol' camera hanging off my shoulder and told me she was thinking about getting some portraits done of her children and a couples portrait with her husband. Before long we were talking about price and she asked, "Why do people spend the extra money to hire me when they can get nice pictures at a Sears, Target or Walmart portrait studio?"
Somewhat to her surprise, I told her there's nothing wrong with going to one of those portrait studios if what you're looking for is a decent, generic portrait. Anyone who's seen portraits from Sears, Target, etc. knows they deliver a predictable product of perfectly acceptable quality. So, by generic, I do not mean bad, I just mean......well, generic. There's a reason generic products of all kinds have appeal. They are often less expensive and, if nothing else, they usually get the job done (whatever that job may be). Generics are most appealing when we're not in the market for something special or unique. Here's a little story to illustrate my point. A few years back, I made a trip to Alaska. I generally prefer photos as souvenirs when I travel but, in this case, I thought it'd be nice to just pick up a little something else. I'm not much for trinkets, so I decided to keep my eye out for a shirt. As you can imagine, there were dozens of choices in the $5-$20 range…and they were all fine. But, this had been a really special trip and I wanted something a little better than just "fine" for my momento. Near the end of my trip, I was in a local artist's gallery and noticed a small selection of short and long-sleeved t-shirts. They were awesome! Nothing like anything I'd seen. The shirt I liked most was $45...quite a bit more than I wanted to spend…but it was so great! I hummed and hawed, talking myself into then out of the purchase. Finally, after a lot hand wringing, I bought the shirt. In all my t-shirt-wearing years, I have never received more compliments on an article of clothing than I received on that $45 shirt. Sure, it was nice to have other people affirm my choice; but, honestly, I loved that shirt and was happy just to own it. It was one of a kind, very cool (always important!) and reminded me of a terrific time in my life. I find that we invest in portraits for the same reason I invested in my shirt...to have something tangible and extraordinary to recall the special times and special people in our lives. That's a tall order for any photographer and, with all due respect, probably not something you're likely to find at the local super store.