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June 15, 2005

No you haven't.

Sorting through my junk mail today, I came across an ad for a new portrait studio. "We've totally re-invented the studio experience," their slogan touts. Except none of what they've done is new. At all. They might be able to convince people that have only gone to Sears Portrait Studio their entire life that this is revolutionary, but the rest of us (particularly anyone with an interest in photography) get a good laugh. Their innovations:
Our experienced, professional photographers use hand-held digital cameras, freeing them, just like professional fashion photographers, to move and interact with children and adults being photographed.
Golly gee, I guess I must have been hallucinating when I went to have my senior portraits done in high school and the photographer was using a medium-format camera both on a rolling tripod and handheld. And if this studio is like most mass-market studios, "experienced, professional photographers" translates to "we gave them a couple days of training."
Choose from 36 great poses. Not just 6. ... Displayed right in front of you, on our giant, color plasma screen, are all 36 of your poses for you to digitally edit, enhance, crop, or zoom in to enlarge...
Again, having more than a couple poses is nothing surprising unless you've only gone to Walmart or Sears for portraits your entire life. (This isn't to say they necessarily turn out bad work. For what they are -- high-volume, low-personality cheap portraits -- they're fine.) And a giant plasma screen? Their start-up costs could have gone to much better things than giant plasma screens. Particularly since not every customer is going to want a giant plasma screen showing their proofs large enough everyone else in the store can look at them. 36 poses, of course, is a made-up large number they know they'll probably rarely have to deliver on. You're not going to want to sit through 36 poses, especially if you're in a group. If you're doing portraits of your kids, there's no way in hell they're going to last 36 poses. It sure does make for nice ad copy, though.
Special effects, tones and props create one-of-a-kind portraits
Yep. Nobody in the history of portrait studios has ever offered any of the following: I'm sure glad somebody came along and "innovated" the things you could do with photography.
Portraits in 15 minutes, not 15 days
Because nobody else has a Fuji Frontier or any other sort of digital printer these days. Of course, that 15 minute figure can't possibly include retouching (which isn't even mentioned as an option in the mailer). As much bullshit as their alleged innovations are, it's the sample portraits in the mailer that really make them look horrible. There's one toddler portrait that's suitably adorable, though even that one has technical problems. The rest of the pictures are pretty bad. The front cover of the mailer features a portrait of two kids who melt into the background, likely because either (a) the background isn't properly lit or (b) the kids are too close to the background (both things "experienced, professional photographers" would have known about). On the up side of things, the composition's nice on that one. The toddler picture I just mentioned? Same problem. The same problem occurs again with a picture of a little girl, but is made even worse by the fact the background they're using is supposed to look like a scene. Instead, due to the way it was lit or composed, it looks like they cut-and-pasted her using Photoshop. Those are almost passable portraits. Then you open up the brochure one more fold and hit a doozy. It's a family portrait (or possibly a portrait of actors pretending to be a family). Whatever the case, it's awful. Absolutely awful. They're dead in the center of the frame, for starters. Beyond that, there's a huge gap of dead space around them on three sides. The way they're posed is an ugly jumble, with half the people either too close or too far from the other subjects. The best (or worst) part, though, is again the background lighting. It's not lit evenly at all, giving a wonderfully hideous tinge in varying shades of grey everywhere shadow falls on the seamless paper. It's one thing to take a picture that bad. **It's another entirely to then take it and use it in a national advertising campaign.** While crappy photographs are one hell of an innovation, there's one they don't mention in the brochure that I think is the most important of all: horrible studio design. A lot of people are self-conscious when being photographed. I am -- I prefer to be behind the lens (though my senior portraits were awesome because I both trusted the guy and recognized the lighting configurations he was setting up and could pose appropriately ahead of time). This is why most studios -- even those at Sears -- tend to have doors. This innovative portrait studio prefers an open floor plan. So now mom isn't just self-conscious about being photographed, she's also self-conscious about everyone in the lobby watching her be photographed. A more brilliant plan for horrible portraits has never been hatched!

Posted by Colin at June 15, 2005 2:27 PM

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