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View Full Version : Is there money in LF portrait work?



Wayne Crider
8-Nov-2009, 21:19
After perusing the recent View Camera newsstand copy with the wonderful pictures of wet plate and Tintype's, I was wondering if there was still a viable market for LF portrait work, whether Alt or not. I've read over and over again over the last decade where LF cameras came to the market from studio use being apparently replaced with MF possibly, and eventually with digital recording. It seems now that the use of LF might be so unique that a person could garner a name if good enough with technique. I know that the market so to say is in the dumpster, but I still wonder. Mostly because it looks as if I'll be a partner in a different type business, but where I can set up a backdrop in a rather large unused space.

Jim Michael
9-Nov-2009, 05:14
You can always create a market where none exists. The challenge is getting your message to those who are going to sustain your business. It's questionable whether LF itself is a prime motivator, so you may need another, i.e. something that strongly differentiates you from anyone else doing portraiture in your target market and in which customers can see the value.

Re the current economy, even with 20% real unemployment there is a segment of the market that has money and will spend it if the value is there. Leave the low end to the bottom feeders.

eddie
9-Nov-2009, 05:28
the short answer No.

but people are doing it.....so maybe sometimes would be a better answer.

i too thought that WPC would sell. i have been trying to do formal portraits using WPC and have approached wedding photographers in an attempt to add me to there list of offerings. while everyone says it is great no paid work yet....now at the same time i have not been overly aggressive pushing this as i am not officially starving and can pay my bills using my automotive training.....

now i need to get a copy of he VCM.

cheers

eddie

cjbroadbent
9-Nov-2009, 05:31
Thats what Howard Coster (http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person.php?LinkID=mp01039&role=art) said to my dad in 1927.
Coster made his mark doing carbon print portraits of men only, creating a market by doing it different, as Jim says above.

Louie Powell
9-Nov-2009, 05:52
This is really a marketing question.

I suspect that there is a small market for LF portraiture, but that it is very widespread, and as a result, the number of practitioners that the market can support is quite limited. And unfortunately, the market is probably declining. The combination of what I call the "Walmart syndrome" (screw quality - just make it cheaper), the advance of digital technology, and the notion that anyone can now be a portrait photographer is causing the demand for high-quality portraiture to shrink.

There are some notable example of LF portraitists who appear to be very successful - Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, for example. But also know a guy in the mid-west who had a successful portraiture business based on LF who is seriously struggling.

BarryS
9-Nov-2009, 06:17
If you're asking whether you can sell LF as a brand--I think the answer is no. It's getting harder to find photgraphers that can recognize LF, let alone the general public. Portrait/Wedding photographers sell themselves and their personal style--not their equipment.

A friend that runs a gallery asked if I wanted to do alt process portraits at an upcoming arts event associated with some new housing in a local arts district. The woman representing the housing development was excited about bringing in a photographer, but went on to say the price point should be $20-$25/package--you know, like Sears.

You can open a business and make LF part of your brand, but I don't see it as a big selling point.

Frank Petronio
9-Nov-2009, 07:54
I don't think your choice of a camera or technique is as much a factor as how you relate to your subjects. That said, success is more about marketing and hard work than sheer talent.

I don't know who the highest paid photographers are, but that Aussie guy who sells panoramic photos in Vegas and Annie Liebowitz come to mind, both of whom work their asses off in spite of their rather mediocre "gifts".

Vaughn
9-Nov-2009, 10:19
I am going to be a bit of a smartass and say yes, there is money in LF portraiture...but with the possibility of it flowing the wrong direction.

Sorry, but I blame it on a wet bicycle commute this morning and having "Jumping' Jack Flash" playing in the background. I really do not know what I am talking about.

Vaughn

Brian Ellis
9-Nov-2009, 10:21
The practical advantages of digital for portrait work for both the photographer and the customer are so great that I can't imagine a business built solely around the use of a LF camera as such would be much of a selling point. It might even be counterproductive from a price and customer convenience standpoint. But using LF to do something different, e.g. printing with an alt process such as gum, might be feasible if you could market it to the right people. But even then it would be hard because the look of most alt process prints can be replicated in Photoshop, at least well enough that no customer is likely to know the difference between the real thing and the Photoshop version.

Drew Bedo
9-Nov-2009, 10:23
Every working professional photographer that I know in the Houston area is digital. You might post this question on www.texasphotoforum.com They have a very active professional guild. If there are any active professionals working in large format, that will be a good place to look.

r.e.
9-Nov-2009, 11:22
Even as someone sympathetic to large format, I'd be much more interested in the photographer's style, ascertained by seeing examples of it, than in what format he uses. There are large format photographers who do work that is technically sound and aesthetically to some tastes, but whose work doesn't interest me at all; and there are photographers using 35mm, film or digital, for whom I would offer myself up as a photographic victim- err, subject - in a heartbeat :)

rdenney
9-Nov-2009, 12:43
Elsa Dorfman seems to have done okay.

Rick "thinking one needs the right hook to make a specialized service unique and valuable" Denney

Bruce Watson
9-Nov-2009, 13:05
Is there money in LF portrait work? Of course there is. There's always money in selling shovels to the miners. You being one of the miners in this case. :D

Donald Miller
9-Nov-2009, 13:25
Do you have the ability to create something truly unique with great apparent value and do you have the ability to market it and yourself effectively? Are you comfortable relating to the people of power that have the money? Therein lies your answer. Most people have a "compete" mindset and it is not surprising to me that they are the naysayers. You don't need to compete you need to create!!!

Donald Miller

Ed Richards
9-Nov-2009, 14:44
Listen to some of the Inside Analog Photography podcasts. Several of them are photographers who appear to making a living, some quite a good living, shooting film as a brand, and even some LF. What strikes me about them is they are good business and market people, who work hard, and they could have probably branded themselves with anything - their key is being different in a way that can be sold to upper middle class folks, the one who will spend money. Sounds too much like a job for me, but it seems to work.:-)

jnantz
9-Nov-2009, 15:06
hi wayne

if it is something "on the side" and is for fun and by word of mouth
there sure is a market for large format portraits. it is a great niche.
many of the portrait photographers near me do more than just portraits,
a lot of them do weddings, events and sports ( school ) contracts,
and no one uses film.

the woman i worked for years ago, was in the heart of downtown providence
and all the banks and insurance companies were still in town and she made her living
doing "executive portraits" for the sunday paper's promotion-pages and collateral. she was still shooting
5x7 and split when the rest of the world had their hasselblads in hand.
the reason why they kept coming back was 3 fold - she was a master,
she retouched the film ( and paper ) and she was dirt cheep.
nowdays, with PS anyone can do an OK job retouching portraits,
and pretty much anyone with a camera can take portraits ( or say they are a portrait photographer )

what would set you apart from the pack is that you are making something a bit
different, even if you scan the film into PS and output it at a lab for 2$/8x10,
it still will start with film.

good luck!
john

Mark Sampson
9-Nov-2009, 17:54
You also have to look at the nature of the business. Portrait photographers who are well-known for their creative work, from the late Arnold Newman to Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, do not have the subject of their portraits as their client. The work that you remember is editorially assigned by a magazine or corporation. The vast majority of professional portrait photography in this country is sold directly to the sitter; an enormous market that thrives on assembly-line product. And it has to; the competition is so great and the margins so razor-thin that you'd better have something that looks just like your competitors', but a bit cheaper, if you want to survive. (I know, I've been there.) In that market, LF would be a real liability from a production cost standpoint; to thrive you'd best find a place to set up with an affluent, discerning clientele. Not suburban America, I'm afraid; Nantucket or West Palm Beach might do.

Jim Fitzgerald
9-Nov-2009, 19:34
I am going to be a bit of a smartass and say yes, there is money in LF portraiture...but with the possibility of it flowing the wrong direction.

Sorry, but I blame it on a wet bicycle commute this morning and having "Jumping' Jack Flash" playing in the background. I really do not know what I am talking about.

Vaughn

So, Vaughn you are saying that some big lips in a mud puddle made you see that there was money in LF portraiture? What a bitch, and I don't know what I'm talking about either but it is fun!!

Jim

D. Bryant
9-Nov-2009, 19:41
Annie Liebowitz .

Leibovitz ...

Wayne Crider
9-Nov-2009, 20:34
Well I'm not really surprised by the answers as I can recall reading then over and over again over the years in different forms and concerning different photographic systems.
I think I'm going to take a different tack on the idea. What is happening is that a small group of us are opening a new rehearsal/recording studio, so there are lots of musicians around. The business exist now. I think I'll just ask some of them to sit for me and have fun at recording the groups in both LF and digital. Maybe a couple of posters on the walls or pictures sprinkled around will garner some business. I have been approached for my video work for these people, but I am looking to get some still work, and I thought it would be unique to use a large camera which always seems to elicit some interesting remarks. I couldn't make less then what I'm making on my landscapes; Which is nothing and the expense is still there. :)

Immekeeby
2-Dec-2009, 07:24
Ive tried iCash, spaces and apostrophes dont work.

Ive tried kBank, wasnt what I was looking for.

Ive tried vBCredits, too much stuff packed in.

Is there anything just basic like iCash, but actually works?

Mark Sawyer
2-Dec-2009, 10:07
Is there anything just basic like iCash, but actually works?

I think the Monty Python people wrote a song about this...

John Kasaian
13-Dec-2009, 10:13
A gal in my town was doing a booming business in Platimum/Palladium LF portraits with an 8x10. Her clients were well heeled and could pay the bucks. She advertised with calling cards and samples left in a few ultra high end frock shoppes, and extolled the permenance of platinum prints as a sales "hook."

Oh and she's a very talented photographer too!

I haven't heard anything about her since the economy went in the tank though.

Greg Blank
13-Dec-2009, 10:55
There is a market if your work appeals to the client- regardless of price or the format- keyword "Uniqueness". Doing LF portraiture in and of itself, is not a practical business model. Which does not mean someone can't make lots of money that way,....but acquiring the skills to do it porfitably and have a stream of paying clientele, is a very long path if you have not done portraiture and have basic LF skills.

Portraiture and weddings will always be the easiest route to make money with a camera. But you give up a lot by being in demand.



After perusing the recent View Camera newsstand copy with the wonderful pictures of wet plate and Tintype's, I was wondering if there was still a viable market for LF portrait work, whether Alt or not. I've read over and over again over the last decade where LF cameras came to the market from studio use being apparently replaced with MF possibly, and eventually with digital recording. It seems now that the use of LF might be so unique that a person could garner a name if good enough with technique. I know that the market so to say is in the dumpster, but I still wonder. Mostly because it looks as if I'll be a partner in a different type business, but where I can set up a backdrop in a rather large unused space.

Greg Blank
13-Dec-2009, 10:57
Added disclaimer: If you can afford to.


Leave the low end to the bottom feeders.

D. Bryant
13-Dec-2009, 11:42
A gal in my town was doing a booming business in Platimum/Palladium LF portraits with an 8x10. Her clients were well heeled and could pay the bucks. She advertised with calling cards and samples left in a few ultra high end frock shoppes, and extolled the permenance of platinum prints as a sales "hook."

Oh and she's a very talented photographer too!

I haven't heard anything about her since the economy went in the tank though.
Got a link to her website? I would like to see what she is doing.

Thanks,

Don Bryant

Robert Skeoch
13-Dec-2009, 16:26
I'm going to chirp in with my view on this.

The fact that it is LF is irrelevant. Who wants to look at a boring but grainless photo. It's all about the impact of the composition.

There are only two types of portraits.

Those that are paid for by the sitter, or their family and expect the person to be portrayed in a positive manner.

Those that are paid for by someone else.... such as an Art Grant or an Editorial Magazine/Publication. They don't have to make the sitter look good, since he's not paying and allow the photographer much more freedom and creativity.

If you're style/look of the photos was best expressed through a LF then it could work. If your style was forced to work with LF but could easily be done with a blad or digi, then it's going to be tough sledding.

Whatever your style, if you put together a strong portfolio of 8-12 images, and let the magazines of the world know of your existence... they could call when they needed that look.... as long as the look wasn't the same as everything else out there.

I always think of Chip Simons and the portrait work he did on a blad with a fisheye. He made a great career and a few bucks shooting in a style many people would say was an un-workable solution... but there was enough work to keep him busy.

-rob skeoch

Mike Putnam
13-Dec-2009, 17:24
It sounds like a lot of marketing and networking would be required for large format portraiture. No one in my area is using LF for portraits, of course most aren't using LF for landscapes either. It seems like lots of work to create and or capture a very small niche market. I suspect you would need to be really committed/wedded to your bellows to justify the expense and inconvenient workflow of LF. It sounds cool though!
Mike Putnam
Mike Putnam Photography (http://www.mikeputnamphoto.com/)

John Kasaian
13-Dec-2009, 20:01
Got a link to her website? I would like to see what she is doing.

Thanks,

Don Bryant

Alas I don't have a link to give you. I never saw her website (if she had one) She used soft portrait lenses for her work and would hang a few up in the high end frock shoppes (generally kids or family shots in the client's yard, but sometimes in a studio) and leave a stack of business cards and pamphlets extolling the virtues of platinum palladium. I do remember that people spoke highly of her work and IMHO the praise was well deserved.

srbphoto
14-Dec-2009, 13:14
Yes, there is a lot of money in LF Portraits.


The film company, paper company, chemical company, etc. will make plenty :)

Wayne Crider
14-Dec-2009, 13:59
Scott ain't that the truth. I just priced C41 developed and contact printed.

While I know that everything comes down to the business end as much or more then the artistic (I've seen some bad wedding stuff) I guess the whole LF thing isn't necessarily an advantage. I know somewhat of the portrait business having tried that long ago. I wasn't looking to get involved again, just wondering about any potential tie in with LF, Platinum, tintypes etc. It is a unique thing. Now tho I'm wondering just who is actually making money with LF that hasn't turned to digital for business reasons.

jnantz
14-Dec-2009, 14:32
Look at Karsh....to get Karshed the customer was charged a minimum of $30k per portrait. But he was an excellent at business. He chose his market carefully....located right next to the parliament building in Ottawa. He was there when they needed him, high prices were expected (suggesting the best). We have digital backs, but still they do not match the tonality and quality of 8x10 film, and these customers prefer prints far larger then what a digital back can do. When the market wants 40-60 inch prints for the parliament hallways, an 8x10 is still very convincing with a lot of tradition, and is far more archival for images of important people (this is your differentiated advantage and what your customer must be aware of).

I think it can work, but you must pick your market carefully (with lots of money).

are you sure it was $30,000 ?
i know someone who karsh made a portrait of
and i don't think it was nearly that expensive ...

but just the same, he wasn't cheap ...

D. Bryant
14-Dec-2009, 23:19
Look at Karsh....to get Karshed the customer was charged a minimum of $30k per portrait.

I don't think that is remotely historically accurate. Where did you find that figure?

Don Bryant

percepts
15-Dec-2009, 01:22
http://www.ottawa.ca/residents/arts/galleries_exhibit/karsh_masson/2009_exhibits/karsh_en.html

Mark Barendt
15-Dec-2009, 02:52
http://www.ottawa.ca/residents/arts/galleries_exhibit/karsh_masson/2009_exhibits/karsh_en.html

Makes me proud to own a Calumet, when mine grows up it wants to be an 8x10. :)

jnantz
15-Dec-2009, 13:33
I read that a long time ago (like 20 years). So don't expect me to find the source, or even to prove its accuracy (it was what I read). But do you really think he will be cheap (under $1000)? When photographing famous people (presidents, etc) it usually involved trips to the other side of our planet...his air ticket alone will cost more, then his accomodations, and assistants, and don't forget your paying a big chunk for the name. I understand his studio took up the entire 5th or 6th floor at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa (not something the average photogapher can afford...we're talking big $$$). Add it all up, and do you really think he will do a portrait of you for $1,000 or even $5000, when he has more important people to photograph.

Please do some of your own research before you start trying to discredit others. The link below shows him charging FORD $10,000 for a 2 week session in 1951 when wages back then were $1.33 per hr at the Ford Canadian plant. Seems to me $30k is a conservative figure.

http://www.sciencetech.technomuses.ca/English/collection/karsh5.cfm

i know what you are suggesting and why, but
i don't think he charged anything close to what you claim he charged.

Milosz Wozaczynski
8-Jan-2010, 11:00
Yes, it's possible to earn some money with a LF portraits. But you earn many more with a digital. Most of the people don't see any differences.

JeffKohn
8-Jan-2010, 11:14
I am always amazed that those who will pay $500 for a haircut balk at paying that or more for a portrait.
I'm amazed anyone would pay $500 for a haircut.

cowanw
8-Jan-2010, 13:10
Does it really matter? I think the range varies widely, from $10,000 for 2 weeks he charged Ford in 1951 to whatever. Depends on the job, travel, # assistants needed, size of print, etc. He did charity work too. I found some info... up to you if you would like to find more.

His recent biography states that his fee in 1963 was $1000. After that, his major source of income was publishing rights not new sittings.
Ottawa residents always got a significant discount.
My great Aunt was Karshed in 1935? for 3 dollars.
As to the Chateau Laurier, they stated that they benefited from his presence and that he and they came to an arrangement.
One reason he moved to the Hotel was that his Sparks St studio was to large!
Fine book on him is
Portrait in Light and Shadow: The Life of Yousuf Karsh by Maria Tippett
Regards
Bill

ethics_gradient
8-Jan-2010, 22:46
I'm amazed anyone would pay $500 for a haircut.

Talk to a woman sometime ;)