The value of something like a professional portrait is intrinsic, meaning it has a value that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. I like to think of professional portraits as “priceless.”
In this age of digital selfies and social sharing, fine portraiture to some has taken a back seat. The thrill of posting a photo on Instagram or Facebook gives instant gratification, plus it’s free.
Sure it’s free but how valuable is it? How much thought has gone into making it a statement about that person? Would you be proud to pass it down to your grandkids as an family heirloom?
“From selfies to the mall… to the professional studio.”
I was telling my partner Savannah that this is going to be the “lost generation.” The pictures on your cell phone will stay on your cell phone till you drop it in the swimming pool or someone steals it. The pictures on your computer are most likely a big hodge-podge of photos you can’t find, are unsorted and will also be lost when your hard drive crashes. They are snapshots, have some short term intrinsic value but for the most part are not really thought about much.
To some, portraits means going to the mall. You might have to wait in line, will be photographed with a camera by a camera operator who will try to make your kid smile, and you can buy cheap prints. It’s certainly a step up from the selfie on your cell phone. At least it might hang on a wall in an 8 x 10 somewhere in your house. It will most likely be a fake smile shot on a blue background. So how much does that 8×10 cost? I’m not sure but my guess is less than $20. But you had to drive somewhere and probably wait in line. What is your time worth for the picture of your kid that looks like every other picture? Is this 8 x 10 worth the price?
Is $200 too much to spend on an 8 x 10 that you’ll love and has captured your child’s most amazing expression? I don’t know the answer to that question. It all depends on who you ask! Ask yourself if that portrait has the following attributes: Has the clothing been carefully thought out, does the background complement the clothing and does the cropping make a statement about your child?
Is the abstract artwork you purchased that hangs over the sofa worth the $2,000-$10,000 you paid? Probably, or else you wouldn’t have bought it.
Is your canvas family portrait worth the $1,000-$3000 you paid for it? Probably… and a whole lot more when you consider how important those people in there are to you, and how much you enjoy viewing it every time you pass by.
A True Story
Nobody likes to dwell on the negative for sure… especially me. But this story is one that sadly bears sharing. Last fall I photographed a young father with his one year old son in my studio. This man loved the portraits and ended up gifting several of them to his wife as surprise Christmas gifts.
Since she was pregnant with their second child, we’d also been planning a pregnancy portrait for the month of July or August. So a few weeks ago I emailed her to see if we could schedule a specific date.
The email I got back both shocked and numbed me… it read:
“Hi Al, I have horrible news. My husband died 3 weeks ago in a car accident.
Al I can’t thank you enough for capturing these beautiful pictures of him last fall with our son! This is all I have left and they will be with me forever!
I would still like to do our pregnancy shoot. I am 27 weeks pregnant now. I have no idea how I will keep it together during the shoot but I know my husband was really looking forward to them! I am sorry to have to tell you all of this over email. But I cannot thank you enough for capturing him and our baby. Oh Al! Thank you.”
Through the years, clients have related more sorrow filled stories with me, than I care to recall. Their words serve to solidify what I already believed: that portraits invested in now will ALWAYS have an intrinsic value that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. Creating meaningful portraits of people is the talent I have to share. Let me make you portraits that would be the first of your belongings you’d choose to grab on your way out of a burning building.