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‘Good’ Photography Isn’t Enough Anymore

John Hartman interview tells all: set a better style to stay viable

By Sara Frances | December 26, 2012

Sara Frances: “John Hartman has long had my respect as an innovative teacher, but better - John is a working photographer who has weathered a great many changes in our industry. Welcome to The RAW Report at ProPhotoCoalition, John!”

John Hartman: “I love my profession. I don’t want to quit, because of poor revenue and lack of client commitment to make striking portraits. I’m so glad to answer questions and share my philosophy of senior pictures and researched methods through this column. Making money is great; I want to help everyone have a more lucrative business.”

senior portrait by John Hartmen

SF: “High school senior pictures have long been the mainstay of a great many studio photographers. Perhaps for the last half century. Recently I’ve seen even old, established studios close up due to the do-it-yourself approach of many parents to this previously lucrative market. But John, you seem to have a secret. You’ve been long recognized as a master in this field.”

JH: “It’s obvious that the market has changed. Many photographers who are experiencing tough times now are searching everywhere for answers. Is it the economy? Is it all the new, cheap competitors? Is it out-dated or non-existent marketing? The elephant in the room might be that they aren’t producing work that is different enough from what the public thinks is worth paying for - or different from what they or their amateur friend can do with a ‘good’ camera.”

SF: “I agree. Work I see at on-line studio websites seems very ‘garden variety’ - no better than what a good Canon camera can produce with little direction from the operator. Lighting, posing and style are just not there any more. Is the public just no longer willing to pay for inspired photography?”

JH: “Not at all! As a viable studio business, you’ve got to provide more than ‘just pictures’. It’s up to you to create unique, desirable work, and to create a demand for that work. It’s a two-fold job; one part will not work without the other. My decades long research proves this.”

portrait by John Hartman

SF: “I know that you’ve devoted considerable time and resources to create that unique style you’re speaking of. Tell us about that.”

JH: “Being a master of craft starts the old fashioned way - it’s really an art. Technical excellence comes from study and practice, not buying a new camera. But the good news is that exposure, dimensional lighting and comfortable posing are learnable skill. Not overnight, but definitely learnable. Naturally you’ve got to add exciting, original ideas and willingness to expend significant time, energy and investment to try new stuff."
“I emphasize that quality and great style are not enough to sustain today’s studio. Marketing is another art - the art of getting noticed combined with convincing people to buy and buy again. We call the first part approbation (public recognition of your work as good and valuable) and the second is approval (public willingness to put down money to buy). It’s the difference between being in business and being a starving, grumbling artist.”

musician portrait by John Hartman


SF Note: John's similar approach to posing of two musicians, but vastly differing postporduction, which makes his style unique for each client.

SF: “Wow! I’ll bet that all photographers at one time or another have been sorely disappointed that they just can’t sell their art, and therefore have dropped their pricing - only to discover more disappointment at lackluster sales and now the anguish of being treated as a cut-rate commodity.”

JH: “That’s exactly what has happened, industry wide. Photography remains a one-on-one profession; you can’t photograph two clients at once, and you have little way to scale, or multiply, dollars earned from portrait images, other than to sell more items from a sitting to the same client. So the successful studio must figure out how to promote a viable volume of sittings (this will be a different volume for every photographer), not just the occasional job, and buzz.”

SF: “So what is photographic buzz, and how to get it?”

JH: “Buzz is a moving target - it’s hard to hit. Every year I brainstorm with new styles, lighting, inspiration. I have to develop and evolve stylings that the public responds to. This bears repeating. I may think a new technique is chic, classy and full of pizzazz, but if the market doesn’t agree, I have to go back to the drawing board. This is where experimentation and research come in. You must get new work out into the community in sufficient quantity to get feedback, before there is even a question of favorable buzz to put your studio name on the tip of the tongues of the client segment you want to attract.”

multi-image sports portrait by John Hartman

SF: “It sounds to me like only really dedicated photographers are going to make a living in today’s market.”

JH: “True, but this is also true of most professions. There’s such a glut on the market of services and products. It’s a full time job to remain relevant.”

Splash! sports portrait by John Hartman

SF: “You’re recognized for your willingness to help and mentor photographers of any level of experience. I see how your annual ‘Boot Camp’ could be a huge growth factor for a photographer.”

JH: “Over more than a decade I’ve had the fun and privilege to share my findings and business methods - as well as some of my most successful photographic techniques - with sell-out crowds at my Boot Camp.
“Last minute sign-ups are welcome. We’ll have a blast, and I promise to increase you bookings, raise your sales average and improve your photography. Here’s the info and a special discount code.”

SF: “Here’s the info, and a special discount code for the 3-day workshop.”

This is not a sponsored event through ProPhotoCoalition or Createasphere.

John Hartman’s Boot Camp is just around the corner! January 14-16 at Harrah’s in Las Vegas (no conflict with ImagingUSA, SYNC or SPI dates). The meeting is actually held in the Improv Room, the famous comedy club at Harrah’s.

I’ve made arrangements with John to provide a really great offer for all ProPhotoCoalition readers. The regular tuition for first-time attendees is $998 ($598 for additional staff members), and many thousands have gladly paid that and have benefitted handsomely from the knowledge and skills they’ve gained. However,  now through November 15, you can come to this state-of-the-art event for just $499, and you can bring a staff person or spouse for only $99. To get this great rate, go to registeration for the Boot Camp on-line (or call 1-800-423-9167 M-F 8-5 CST to register by phone). At checkout, enter PCC (all caps) in the Discount Code box and your new rate will be applied.

2 minute video about Boot Camp click here.  For all the info visit here. See you there!

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