2009-09-17 / Business News

Getting the picture

Professional photographers bring new angles into focus as the business changes
BY GEORGE RAAB Special to Florida Weekly

Above: Photographer Peggy Farren at work in her Naples studio. Below right: Some of Ms. Farren's completed pinup portraits. Above: Photographer Peggy Farren at work in her Naples studio. Below right: Some of Ms. Farren's completed pinup portraits. Everyone's become a shutterbug since the advent of digital photography. And while it's still true that consistently getting the best shot takes talent and skill, traditional sources of revenue for professional photographers are cutting corners to make ends meet. For instance, for eye-catching covers, magazines can buy stock photography at bargain basement rates. Reliant on developers and new construction, many businesses that hire photographers — ad agencies and public relations firms — are also under pressure. Companies have slashed advertising budgets and work is slow.

But when the going gets tough, the tough come up with new strategies. We focused on three determined professional photographers in Southwest Florida.

A fresh take on cheesecake

Peggy Farren is shooting cheesecake these days, and that's OK with her. She's always shot weddings, family portraits and environmental portraits of highschool seniors, but as amateurs-turnedphotographers have crowded an already competitive market, she's broadened her mix.

The Detroit native has been in business in Naples for 10 years as Avant-Garde Images (www.NaplesPortraits.com). In her studio in the Gateway Triangle, she's started offering specials including "Head Shot Tuesdays" for business people and fanciful fairy sessions for children. Although weddings remain a mainstay of her on-location work, she's started making waves with underwater portrait sessions in backyard swimming pools.

But it's back in her studio where Ms. Farren is bringing what she thinks could be her best photography into focus, with a signature twist on boudoir-style glamour shots: pinup portraits and pinup portrait parties.

Sensual images of women in lingerie are nothing new, but the studio sessions are traditionally for one woman at a time, and the resulting images generally are not widely shared for viewing.

Campy and fun, pinup portrait parties let up to six friends "play dress-up" using Ms. Farren's growing collection of vintage clothing and props (she's an admitted thrift-shop junkie). While she directs poses for individual portraits, the others sip wine and help one another put together outfits. Group poses often are part of the session.

While women over 30 seem to be most attracted to the idea of a vintagestyle portrait of themselves, tattooed 20-somethings also wear Betty Grable glam very well, Ms. Farren says. Signs of age are no problem, she adds. "I retouch the heck out of them, and everyone looks fabulous."

After years of photographing weddings, she's unfazed by the laughter and high jinx that invariably accompany a pinup party. She keeps right on shooting, her own delightful laugh permeating the studio throughout every session.

"I got my training with weddings, and I still love doing them," she says, "but you cannot believe how little time you have, and how difficult it can be, to get classic, attractive poses of 40-50 people at a wedding — and to stay happy and bubbly while you're at it. Compared to that, pinup parties are a breeze."

Top: Peggy Farren shoots retro-style pinup portriats. Above: A self-portrait by Craig Hildebrand, who says, "Making an image really melts my butter." Right, a stock photo by Dennis Guyitt, who took photographs for the U.S. Air Force for 28 years. Top: Peggy Farren shoots retro-style pinup portriats. Above: A self-portrait by Craig Hildebrand, who says, "Making an image really melts my butter." Right, a stock photo by Dennis Guyitt, who took photographs for the U.S. Air Force for 28 years. Expanding his territory

"I'd rather have a root canal than shoot a wedding," says Craig Hildebrand (www.craigphoto.com). "Some of the strongest shooters you'll ever see — you have to be a war photographer while shooting beautiful portraiture — are wedding photographers."

Although he shudders at the thought of being under the gun while recording marital bliss, Mr. Hildebrand will shoot portraits when a story can be revealed, as in an image of organic produce wholesalers literally up to their ears in watermelons.

"Making an image is really what melts my butter," he says.

The Fort Myers-based commercial photographer has had a camera in his hands most of his life and dates when he officially became a photographer to his first Hasselblad in 1978. He carries fond memories of developing pictures in his darkroom, and suspects that fixer still runs through his veins.

Whereas portrait photographers and photojournalists capture events, Mr. Hildebrand explains, as a commercial photographer he creates them, most often for advertising agencies that hire him.

His technical skills, especially where lighting is concerned, can transform ho-hum interiors into magical spaces. And while the current demand is about nil, he says, he has the backdrop for awesome car photos. "At my level, it's about the lighting," he says. "A lot of people have a good eye and understand composition, but if you can't see light, you're not there." The digital age of point-and-shoot, he laments, has created "no shortage" of amateurs who have no technical understanding but who market themselves as photographers.

When the local real estate market started collapsing more than two years ago, Mr. Hildebrand set his sights outside the area and reports that he's now more of a regional photographer. His mouth-watering images of food, for instance, are marketed nationally.

Last year, when signs of market weakness were everywhere, he stayed busy. His pipeline of work held up until the first quarter, which, he reports, was terrible.

Driven by passion for his work and the need to feed his rambunctious family, however, he doesn't appear to be distraught by market conditions.

"People of like minds that share a fanatical need for perfection and creativity seek each other out in the universe," he muses. "We find each other."

Focusing on stock photos

Stock photography is becoming a workplace of choice for Dennis Guyitt (www.dennisguyitt.com), a photographer with a wealth of experience.

He was a photographer for the U.S. Air Force for 28 years, along the way earning a Bronze Star and two Air medals while a combat cameraman in Southeast Asia. He spent his last five years as a lieutenant colonel stationed at the Pentagon, helping with the rollout of digital photography in the military. While working on that assignment, he formed relationships with Kodak personnel, where he eventually went to work and stayed for 14 years. At Kodak, he trained advanced photographers throughout the northeast in the use of digital photography.

"It was a great experience," he says. "It was one of those jobs that you always hope for where you almost feel guilty taking a paycheck."

Mr. Guyitt moved to Bonita Springs in 1998 and continued to work for Kodak until 2004. He's found photographic work in Southwest Florida — everything from architecture, interiors, cars and portraits — but reports that work is slow.

Animal photography, which he loves, is bringing him his best leads. He took a good deal of the photography for Naples Dog magazine and also volunteers his services to Golden Retriever Rescue of Southwest Florida fundraisers.

He's parlayed contacts made with dog photography into trade of sorts; one photo session was a veterinarian performing surgery, and the resulting photos have sold well in the stock arena.

The learning curve for stock photography can be frustrating, he reports.

"Other photographers encouraged me, and kept my interest up, when I was really wondering if it was worth the effort," he says. "You never know ahead of time if something will sell well. That's one of the things that I like about stock photography. You can go out and try things, and get rewarded if they pan out."

Stock companies demand artistic and technical perfection, which has made him even better at his game. When a photo was rejected, he took the time to find out why. The effort enabled him to further develop his skills, both in taking photos and in using Photoshop and other image-editing software.

With almost 900 of his images accepted at the stock company he uses, his royalty income has doubled in the past year.

Mr. Guyitt sees his own experience with stock photography as a life lesson.

"The move to stock has made such a difference in my skill level," he reasons. "That was a real surprise that's paying off in every other thing that I do with photography.

"I think so many people now are looking for ways to be a little more creative. We're all stepping outside of our comfort zones. For me, branching out and trying something new has had many side benefits."

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