Okay, I know Pinterest has been in the mainstream since roughly 2011 (thanks Wikipedia) and has since likely inspired/burned away your spare time or indirectly caught your attention at decorative parties (that’s right, your friends are not all that creative). It seems, with our vast online sea of DIY sites, everyone’s lives have been touched by Pinterest in some way. Heck, even your grandma has likely uttered its name from time to time despite the fact she doesn’t even have (or want) Internet access. Well, as Pinterest tends to have roots in every aspect of creativity, photography is not out of bounds…but is it a good or bad thing?
I might have been a teen in the 90s (although I was a tech geek in high school, so I gain a few points there), but I am not as late to the Pinterest Kool-ade as my opening paragraph might suggest. I have known about it since its first rise in popularity and have watched my wife spend countless hours upon it. Even Abanathy Photography, LLC even has its own page on the site! Now that my credentials are in check, I have a few insights on how Pinterest can both help and hinder a photographer.
Going back to our beginnings, we have had several clients, from family and infant portraits to our “You” boudoir sessions, utter a similar question: “Can I show you some things I found on Pinterest?” Each time, I am always welcoming of the smartphone slideshow, as it lets me see exactly what the client has in mind for their portraits. Plus, it is a lot better for business than me saying: “NO! Take your smartphone and money and giiiitout!” However, while it is a great tool of the modern age, it can have its downsides. And, as the P-word has been mentioned a time or five in our studio recently, I figure I might finally give my official opinion on the matter with both the good and the bad:
First, the goods:
The happy client: Even though I am a photographer (and thereby an artist), I do not see Pinterest and similar Google-searched images as a major threat. While I am an artist and do have my own visions, I am also a businessman who knows the importance of a happy client. This shows me exactly what they want and I am happy to deliver to the best of my ability. Plus, they usually let me do my own thing too. So it is a win-win!
A challenge to my technical skills: Although my personal portrait vision might have to come second to a Pinterest pin, when a client requests a similarly structured image, my creativity is still sparked in figuring how to set up the shot with what I have. True, it comes more from a technical standpoint, but photography is one of the few arts which relies heavily on the technical side. So, like my creativity, it is good to flex that technical noodle from time to time as well.
Inspiration for myself: I pride myself a bit on not having the typical photographer ego. Basically, I am unlikely to turn my back in a huff and have my wife escort clients off the premises for stepping on my creativity. With this in mind, I see Pinterest as a way to inspire my art and become a better photographer as well. Whether folks realize it or not, many artists receive their inspiration from other artists. Even the greatest musicians, painters and photographers have some inspiration behind them. Few artists can claim 100% originality and denying outside inspiration into your work is an almost certain recipe for disaster.
Now, on the flip side:
The best of the best: While it might seem great to have a graphic representation of exactly what the client wants to see in their portraits, this too can have a downside. What most folks (especially non-photographers) don’t realize is how many shutter clicks it takes to get that set of great portraits (or even that one great portrait). Now, take those great portraits and place them alongside all other great portraits. Then, select the best of the best of those portraits and place them in one gallery on one website where people can further enrich the product by voting or “repinning” their favorites. When looking at sites like Pinterest, you are often looking at an absolute. This could easily lead to high (maybe even unrealistic) expectations of what your photographer is going to be able to do. The best way around disappointment is realizing he/she is likely to take the inspiration and add their personal flare making their work (and your portrait) unique.
Nothing new to see here: We’ve all seen the “nailed it” posts on Facebook where folks have attempted to execute a beautifully captured Pinterest idea and ended up with a train wreck instead. These are funny to look at, however, professionals are often capable of getting a lot closer to the original image than the typical smartphone slinger. Now, imagine for a moment if your professional photographer does, in fact, nail the Pinterest poses. True, you have a beautiful portrait, but it is not the photographer’s unique vision and it is not uniquely you. That’s when it is best to put yourself in your future self’s mindset and ask if a reenactment is really what you want. Keep in mind all those Pinterest pins (staged or not) were original ideas at one time. If you let your photographer take the reins, you just might be the next original pin.
Impractical odds: Many factors go into a great portrait: Lighting, angle, facial expression, candidness, time of day, weather, camera settings, timing, location and a sprinkle of luck. When you take all of this into account, you will soon realize a photographer will seldom even be able to recreate his/her own work, let alone someone else’s. I’ll be the first to admit, I have tried to replicate my own work before only to have a different outcome because all of these serendipitous elements simply did not line up a second time. A professional photographer might be able to get close, but a flawless reproduction featuring you is unlikely. Plus, you don’t want a photographer so bent on getting that Pinterest pose that they miss everything else.
Unrealistic Expectations: Recently, I was discussing this issue with another photographer. It is an argument as old as mass publication itself. Even before Pinterest, folks were comparing themselves to models they see in public. From magazines and TV to newspapers and the Internet, we see beautiful images and want that for ourselves. Pinterest has exacerbated this by allowing folks to essentially create a dream gallery, many of which contain carefully staged, time-friendly, professional model shots. However, without going into the politics of it, simply placing someone into the same position as the model and snapping a portrait is not necessarily going to have the same results as that beautiful Pinterest image. This is especially true of wedding and boudoir portrait sessions. Lighting, location, body type, time restraints, backdrop and even gravity are just a few elements which can keep your favorite pins from translating verbatim into your own portrait session. With this, it is often best to let the photographer work his/her magic and simply let the Pinterest page be a guide.
Time compression: When you see a Pinterest gallery, once again keep in mind you are seeing a condensed, crème de la crème version. And, not unlike a movie or television show, not only are you seeing only the best footage, but you are also spared the time it took to get it. If you have 20-30 pins to inspire your wedding portraits and you want the photographer to mimic all of them, you might have to forego the ceremony, reception and honeymoon to do so. Like noted above, many of those pins came as part of a greater session and luck. To try and recreate each favorite pose within a single wedding time frame would be impractical and would essentially rob you of your big day. Of course, if you REALLY want these shots, I’m sure your photographer could set up a separate, likely pricey portrait session complete with tux, dress, makeup and hair.
So, my overall opinion on Pinterest? Honestly, even though I am not a fan of some newer photographic technology (like smartphone cameras), this does not spread to the big “P”. It staves off unhappy clients and reshoots, and I am up front about how my version of the image will go by comparison (and I’ve receive no complaints yet). After all, Pinterest has assimilated almost to the point of being a verb and adjective, which means it is not going anywhere soon, so I might as well entertain its presence. Plus it pushes me to be a better photographer and gives inspiration all at the same time. So, to all my clients present and future who want to ask: “Can I show you some things I found on Pinterest?”, the answer is: “Absolutely!”