The Value of a Photograph with Skip Cohen
Over the past few years, every article I’ve written for Shutter Magazine has covered the essential building blocks for your business. While I’ve often referred to the importance of quality and always exceeding client expectations, I’ve never really shared the insight I’ve gained into the essential value of great photographs.
Of all the articles and information I’ve shared to help you build a stronger business and a reputation you’re proud of, nothing tops the importance of understanding the value and responsibility of the career field you’ve chosen. No other career field—except areas like medicine—has given the world what photography has. It carries with it a huge responsibility to every client, and it all starts with your mindset, followed by your skillset.
I can’t help you with your technical skills, but I certainly can help with the importance of delivering a quality product and follow-through with the commitment you make to each client every time you click the shutter. I can think of no better example than my own experience with two good friends over the years and a very special member of my family, Molly the Wonder Dog.
Molly the Wonder Dog
Molly became my partner in crime at eight weeks old. From November 2005 to February 15, 2019, Molly was by my side every day except when I was traveling. She went to work with me every day and became the company mascot. When I headed out on my own, she slept at my feet in my home office.
She chased tennis balls everywhere we went, including the ocean when I lived in California. When we left the West Coast in 2009, she shared the front seat with me as we drove cross-country and she chased tennis balls at rest stops. She was a fur ball of energy for almost 13 years.
In December, I noticed her slowing down a little, and eventually learned she had cancer. Two months after diagnosis, we had to put her down. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but I’d made a promise to Molly to never let her suffer.
With her head in my hands and my nose nuzzling her neck, just like she had done to me thousands of times over the years, she was euthanized on February 15. Sadness doesn’t begin to describe the pain and the hole in my heart that only recently has started to subside.
I have hundreds of photographs of Molly. She was one of the most photographed pups in the industry, captured on film and digital over the years by Bambi Cantrell, Judy Host, Carey Schumacher, Nicole Begley (and her entire pet photography class here in Sarasota), Helen Yancy, Suzette Allen and, most recently, Robert Vanelli. Those photographs have become a collection of memories that are priceless to me.
Three portraits became the cornerstone for keeping her memory alive thanks to Bambi Cantrell and Robert Vanelli. Bambi’s responsible for the headshot of Molly that she took around 2007. If the eyes are indeed the gateway to the soul, then Bambi caught the love Molly had for everybody.
Last August, Robert came over to this side of the state, and we hung out for the weekend. While I have a lot of images of Molly and me together, I wanted something that captured more than just a boy and his dog.
Robert spent the weekend watching me and Molly interact. When she wasn’t at my side, she was by his, and that Sunday morning, he shot us doing our morning routine in my office. I never said a word about what I wanted him to capture. He listened to us, watched how we each responded to the other and then just clicked away.
These two portraits of Molly and me have become two of the most important pictures of my career…of my life. But my point is this: What if Robert and Bambi had had a “that’s good enough” attitude and just clicked the shutter?
I’ve heard so many stories of photographers learning that their portrait of a client was the last image ever captured of them. That’s what happened with Robert’s two portraits of us.
Molly will always be in my head and heart. There’s a beautiful quote by author Jodi Picoult I’ve shared many times in blog posts. It’s so appropriate here: “This is what I like about photographs. They’re proof that once, even if just for a heartbeat, everything was perfect.”
My good buddy Scott Bourne once encouraged a group of photographers to capture every image as if it was the last one people would ever see of their work. He also referred to our role in the industry as the “high priests of memory protection.”
The next time you’re working with a client, keep these pearls of hard-won wisdom in mind:
- Don’t just capture images. Put your heart and soul into every click of the shutter—that’s what your clients trust you to do.
- Never compromise on the quality of a photograph. It’s okay to experiment and change things around so you can grow as an artist. But when a client is in front of your camera, they are your most important subject. You never know how that image might be used in the future as lives change.
- Deliver on time and keep your promises.
- Exceed expectations and make yourself habit-forming.
- Capture images that tell each client’s story. Even a simple headshot can reveal the personality of the subject.
In the hierarchy of why people hire a photographer in the portrait/social categories, the priorities go brides, babies, pets, in that order. Between the work of Bambi, Robert and my circle of incredible friends, I’ve got one of the greatest collections of memory-retaining images.
Photography is a career whose success is built on a foundation of trust and relationships. You’ve got to be willing to share a little piece of your heart with every image, especially portraits. And as I’ve written before, you can’t create images that tug at people’s heartstrings if your own heart isn’t in it.
You’ve committed to being a magician. You stop time for people, give them tangible objects that capture their most special moments.
Photography is a career field that carries with it incredible pride and requires an unstoppable love for the human spirit and even the puppy world now and then. If you think of your photography as just a job, then it’s time to find a new career. Remember Scott Bourne’s description and the role we all play as “high priests of memory protection.” It’s a huge responsibility that requires a heart that’s filled with love and compassion for every client.
It’s hard to find the words to thank Bambi and Robert for what their photographs mean to me. Hopefully you’ll have a client tell you one day how your photographs touched their life.