Being in the photography business successfully for 40 years has been an amazing journey and a great accomplishment for me. I believe that the people I meet are the best clients anyone could wish for. For the most part, my clients book an appointment, look at the images and then make a purchase according to the price list I provide, and they go home a happy camper. Once in a while, though, a new client will express concerns about what they perceive to be the high cost of professional photography in general, and they wonder aloud if it is really worth it.
And that’s when I say to them, “Maybe I can help you to better understand why professional photography really is ‘worth it’.”
Now, I don’t launch into a list of expenses that pro photographers have to cover just to stay in business. I don’t mention things like rent, insurance, licensing fees, business taxes, equipment cost, software upgrades, photo lab costs, assistants, shipping fees, travel costs, equipment upgrades, editing and retouching fees, ongoing education, and advertising costs.
No, I don’t mention any of these things — I wouldn’t resort to that! But I do tell them about Sunday, October 28, 2012.
Yup, October 28, 2012, the day that President Obama issued a declaration of emergency for New York State. Schools, bridges, and airports were closed. Here in my hometown on Long Island, the orders were given to evacuate immediately! A “super” storm named Sandy was headed directly at our island as if guided by some hi-tech laser gun.
This was a weather event so severe that even calling it a mere hurricane wasn’t sufficient to describe it. To this day, it is still referred to as Superstorm Sandy. The power it beheld was beyond any hurricane we had ever seen here in the northeast. As the name Long Island implies, we are surrounded by water and we realized that nothing good could happen in the next 36 hours.
“Sandy” came to New York and Long Island the next day and even for those of us that didn’t totally lose our homes or businesses or vehicles, our lives were changed forever. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
A lot was going on the Sunday afternoon before the storm was due to make its grand entrance. We took the mandatory evacuation notice seriously. The neighborhood was alive and buzzing with commotion, yet I could sense a sort of calm panic. As if by coincidence (or something else), as I packed my vehicle, I looked around and noticed all my neighbors were doing the same thing at the same time. It was eerie, almost as if we had rehearsed this like the synchronized swimmers in the Olympics or the newest young and bold dance team on America’s Got Talent, but we hadn’t.
As I watched my neighbors bring their valuables out of their homes and into their vehicles, not knowing if there would still be a house standing when we were allowed back, I saw something I will never forget; we all brought the same things out of our homes! I didn’t see any Xbox console, or stereo system. I did not see any plasma screen 90-inch Super Hi Def TVs. I didn’t see any air conditioners, nor did I see any comfy sectional sofas or fancy bathroom sinks, I didn’t see any kid’s bunk beds. No desktop computers. No super-duper blenders or pretty Tiffany lamps.
What I did see was that everyone was loading their cars and mini vans with the family photos that they took off the walls, frame and all. I walked down the street curious about what everyone’s plans were. Where they were going, what they were taking. And I took notice… they had their wedding albums and framed wall portraits ready to travel with them for safekeeping.
I walked over to my neighbor Shelly to see if I could help with anything. I said something about how we all seemed to be packing photos first. I noticed she had a couple photo albums on the hood of their car, waiting to be packed into a box and said something about it. Shelly picked one up. It was an album that was literally bursting at the seams. She opened it up carefully, delicately even, to show me it was filled with years of school pictures and kids in Halloween costumes, her kids taking their first steps and posing proudly on their first bicycle. And also on the hood there were shoe boxes full of photos from years of assorted family occasions. There was an old wooden frame with the last picture of Shelly’s Grandma before she passed.
These were the items she was packing first, and I understood. I understood. I really understood.
We know that at the end of the day, of all our “possessions,” it is our memories that we treasure most and place the highest value on. Pictures represent our memories. Pictures trigger our memories like nothing else on earth has the power to do. Our memories cannot be replaced with any amount of money or any material goods — it really is the most valuable thing we have!
I tell these “wondering” clients to keep in mind that when a photographer hands over custom prints with the images of their loved ones, these are now their “priceless” treasures forevermore. “These are now the most valuable things you own,” I say! And as they get misty eyed and give a quick sniffle thinking about what they would have done in my situation, or what they will do the next time nature unleashes its fury on us mere mortals, and all of a sudden, they get it.
They get it. They really get it.
About the author: Richie Schwartz is a photographer based in West Hempstead, New York. The owner of Pets Photography Studio, Schwartz has photographed over 75,000 pets during his 30+ year career, and he has been referred to as “America’s most experienced pet photographer.” The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.