Navigating Wonderland

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Some memories will last

Part 3 of the Ultimate Guide to Changing Your Life Through Photography (um…still working on a more concise title.)
Just starting? Click here to go to Part 1: Are You Missing Your Own Story?

Like all kids, I identified with Alice in her adventures through Wonderland – navigating a strange world where the rules were unspoken and punishment for disobeying them was harsh. The power of food (biscuits and mushrooms that can make you the size of a flower or a house!), iffy logic, and questionable advocates were the only tools in Alice’s arsenal to get through childhood without losing her dignity – or her head.

Choosing your biscuits (and your advocates) wisely.

When you commission custom artwork, you must navigate Wonderland. What most of us know about art and photography is based on college humanities electives, Shutterfly coupons and iPhone snapshots on social media. Photography is so much more than clicking a shutter – there are rabbit holes below the surface that experts have spent decades exploring.

When you choose a professional artist, you choose your advocate to help navigate a land of invisible details and complexity. Be certain they have the expertise to get you safely through without wasting your money, time, or worse – your images – to innocent mistakes and the ravages of time.

Some methods preserve your memories – others render them disposable

Don’t waste your session fee and the time and expenses of of printing with unstable economy mediums. Do a little homework before your session –  or hire an expert who has done it for you. A meticulous artist considers how you want to feel when you look at your images in the future and plans accordingly. Give your photographer a general idea of what your plans are – it makes a huge difference.

Consider how to get the best value for your images

  • Some images are best featured in the story of an album. Others have maximum impact as a huge the focal point above the mantle. Others tell a short story in a gallery series filling the family room wall.
    • A good photographer will consider your preferred mix of storytelling albums and wall decor needs while composing images during your session – even when choosing what lenses to bring. The cropping ratio, angles and even when we click the shutter are all orchestrated by the ideal final use of your images.
  • Would you love to see your portraits daily on the walls of your home?
    • Tell us the specifics or even send a picture of walls in need of updates – that way we can have an idea of the final size and resolution, number of images, color scheme, and the proportions we should be composing each image for – to best fit your specific project.
  • Are your walls full, but you’d love to design a special book to reminisce over during storytime snuggles?
    • If we are telling a story throughout the day that requires intimate moments and peaks of excitement throughout an album, that requires a completely different session and shooting style than snapping a few formal pictures in a studio.
  • Is there someone who would LOVE to have gift prints or albums of your family?
    • Are you hoping to create just a couple high-quality gifts for great-grandparents, or fifty cheap coffee mugs or each cousin? Different mediums and different gift-recipients appreciate a very different style of portrait.
    • Heirloom albums and canvas wraps can take several weeks or even months to design, print, finish, dry, and bind. Don’t plan to send canvas portraits from a December session to Grandma by Christmas – let your photographer know when you need your final images to see if your plans are humanly possible.
  • How long do you need your portraits to last?
    • Do you need just a single heirloom-quality album for each child to hand down for the next several generations, or are you sending out 500 birthday-party invites over email?
    • Disposable images can be stylish, fun, instagrammy and hipster-campy. Those same images will look horribly cheesy in 15 years.
    • Consider how your images will age over time – archival materials are guaranteed to last for 100+ years in reasonable conditions, whereas novelty products will fade, color-shift, and darken over years or even months.
    • What is your long-term plan for archiving your images? Will your photographer help you develop a maintenance and care procedure for printed and digital images?
    • Choose between a professional or a hobbyist wisely on this one – providing free digital files and no print options means you’re out of luck if you’re hoping to create heirloom products – the top archival labs only work with professionals.

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Quick Primer #2: How do you get the most joy from your portraits?

To receive the most bang for your buck, consider how (and how long) you plan to use your images.

1 of 2: Editing Choices – Classic or Trendy?

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Consider if your photographer’s signature style will stay fresh for the lifetime of your images

Minimalist: You need honest shots posted within days – or minutes – of your session. A photo-journalist capable of getting things right in-camera and who doesn’t bother with aesthetic frills can work quickly and effectively.

Polished: You have chosen to invest in family heirlooms that will last for generations. You are hoping for portraits that capture a specific relationship or personality, unique time, and recognizable place for your family chronicles. You appreciate the prestige of established artists with a signature style to invoke the underlying concepts of a moment, cerebral analysis, or social movement. A fine-art or documentary photographer creates images that record this moment in a range of subtle to not-so-subtle.

Trendy: You need a high-impact image to grab attention for an advertisement, or you want to have fun with the latest technology and filters for novelty gifts. Your budget is limited and the necessary lifespan of the image is less than five years. A friend or hobbyist taking a quick snapshot with your phone can upload it to an easy-to-use app that will apply bulk-filters to any number of images with a single click.

Timeless art takes time.

Think critically about what you really want to use your images for. Something that looks gorgeous and fun now will be the next star-wipe wedding video or Glamour-shots studio portrait in fifteen years. Making an image beautiful with a light touch, or having your images be a part of an artist’s larger social conversation requires your photographer to plan, prepare, and diligently post-process. Telling the difference between an artistic statement and a fad can be difficult without the proper training. Timelessness takes time.

 

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2 of 2: Family Heirlooms vs. Novelty Gifts

Navigating Wonderland wasn’t difficult for Alice because the rules were difficult – overcoming attackers by licking a mushroom sounds pretty easy! Alice’s adventure was a tribulation because the rules were unknown. The same is true for creating portraits for families who haven’t lived-breathed-eaten-worked-slept with a focus on pictures all day for two decades. 90% of my job is preparing and educating clients (hence this guide, which I’m hoping will save me hours providing one-on-one prep consultations).

Three interesting things that it turns out no one knows:

  1. Raw digital files are like the lumber used to make a table. For every hour of a session, there are several days of design preparation and then post-processing edits before a final image is ready (the table is built, inlaid and finished). Asking a photographer for raw, unedited photos is like asking a master craftsman for the lumber and tools – it’s a baffling waste of time, money, and expertise.
  2. Non-archival materials (prints, albums and things made with fugitive inks and acidic bases) can last for a few decades – but they slowly and immediately begin to darken, fade, and color-shift the moment they are created. The process is so slow that most people believe that mid-century portraits are dark, yellow, and fragile because they started that way. Nope! This applies to framing and mounting prints as well. Wet-mounting an archival print or using a non-archival base, mat board, or even hinge tape can destroy a print.
  3. Digital files are nothing like film. You cannot guarantee a safe digital archive, and the files will not last even as long as the cheapest non-archival print. Even worse – degradation is not slow and easy to catch. Loss is immediate and happens without warning, even with proper handling in ideal storage conditions. We can always create a new image from a print – we can’t create a new print from a corrupt, lost, or unreadable digital file.

Consider how keep your images around for as long as you need them

Family Heirlooms: You are capturing important life stages, passing moments, connections and relationships that will change and grow over the years. You want to hold on to these moments forever, and hand them down through the generations. Archival inks, bases, mounting and finishes are mandatory to guarantee your images will last.

Novelty Gifts: You have a specific project in mind and need a high-impact, stylish image. It might be a holiday card, a profile pic, coffee mugs featuring your dog, or budget-friendly holiday albums for every extended member of your family. It will be fun to design, choose the effects and colors and see how it turns out using just a few clicks in an easy-to-use app. There’s a risk of people tossing or donating items soon after they receive it, so you’d prefer to keep your budget low. Nothing needs to last more than a few years, although you might like to hold on to a copy of it for a few decades as a keepsake. Have a friend snap a picture with your iPhone. Big box stores and consumer websites that offer promo codes can easily and super-cheaply print your photos on everything from a blanket to edible food.

Digital files: You just want a few images to share on social media or email to keep distant relatives and friends updated. Perhaps you want one of those albums on Facebook that you hope your high-school rival will hate-click through. You know the one, it’s the visual way of saying “Oh this? Saturdays can be so boring, laughing with my gorgeous husband and beautiful children on our spotless white organic sofa. Well I guess you could say I’ve got it together.” Or perhaps you want to make all of your friends feel nothing but furious envy as you post picture-after picture of home-cooked dinners you cobbled together after work while juggling your toddler. Digital uploads do wonders for our self-esteem and personal validation. They also make a nice screen-saver. But that’s about it.

Have fun, and focus on what really matters.

I am constantly reminding myself that perfection is the opposite of great. So while it is important that you keep informed, it’d be unfair for me to load all of this heavy information on you without pointing out this:

One wonky, cheesy selfie of yourself wearing baggy old yoga pants with your children – printed at Wal-Mart and posted on your fridge – will be worth more than the entire collection of the Louvre to your kids – at any age.

 

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Stay tuned for the next installment in a couple weeks.

Meanwhile, join the mailing list to stay in the loop and get a dose of awesomesauce in that inbox.

This post is part 3 of my series on ‘The Ultimate Guide to Changing your Life through Photography,’  which will be running through January.
Other posts in this series:
Part 1: Are You Missing Your Own Story?
Part 2: What Lights You Up?
Candace Camuglia - January 21, 2016 - 4:45 pm

Wow! This is a really well-written, comprehensive article about delivering/commissioning photography. Stumbled upon your work through RTS, thanks for publishing!