The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Doorstep Portraits

We were about 4 weeks into Lockdown when I first heard about a photographer somewhere in America doing Doorstep Portraits.

For a brief moment I got excited – social distancing had caused my income to dry up overnight and I was struggling with thinking of ways I might still be able to make any money from my photography. Was this the answer?

I followed the links, read the article, looked at the photos and all the excitement vanished.

To begin with, everyone she was photographing seemed to live in those picturesque clapboard houses with large porches and verandas, with plenty of room to stage the families and a large variety of compositional options.

Very different to the house fronts in most small Scottish towns.

However, some pretty serious photographic limitations were also immediately apparent. Quite apart from the fact the photographer was restricted to only one setting, one angle, and one distance, they were also completely stuck with whatever lighting/weather conditions were available.

The photos were never going to be up to the same standard of a proper professional portrait shoot.

So the photographer offset this by charging an incredibly low price and only spent 15 minutes or less with the clients.

A few weeks later, a couple of people sent me links to someone doing something similar in Glasgow, and then I started noticing it cropping up in other towns around Scotland and the UK.

The motivations of the various photographers were mostly about either documenting these exceptional times we live in, or were an excuse to combat their own cabin fever and at least play with their camera again, in however limited a fashion.

I could understand that, but the insecurity many seemed to feel in what they could offer was reflected in the fact they would do it for a tiny fee.

Some were doing it purely for a charitable donation. And if I had the time and energy, and wasn't worrying about money, then I may well have gone down that route.

One or two were clearly trying to make a business model out of fast and cheap – if you're only spending 10 minutes with someone, you can do a lot in a day. Multiply that by £30 a pop and you've actually got not too bad an income.

I also noticed the reactions on the social media channels was huge. Just the fact someone was doing something, and the photos could be shared with their friends and family, seemed to be good enough.

And I could understand that too. Some of our favourite photos are far worse - wonky and half blurred - but they capture a moment that becomes a gateway to the memories of the time.

Could this be something I could actually make money doing?

But no – not if it compromised my principles. I can't do quick and cheap.

If I'm going to take a photo of someone, I want to take the best photos I can. Even if I can't control the lighting and the background, I still want to be as creative as I can and use all my understanding of photography and composition - and that takes time.

And I want time to chat – get people relaxed and you get much better photos. 10 minutes is too short a time to overcome most people's intense self-consciousness in front of the camera.

And I would want to spend time editing the photos afterwards, to enhance and reflect the character of the people and the shoot.

And because of the ME/CFS, I would only be able to do a limited number of them.

So no, there is no business model there that would allow me to make a reasonable income during Lockdown doing this.

But does that mean I shouldn't bother at all?

What if I offered a limited number of shoots, and used it as a promotional opportunity to bring in more business once this is over?

If I charged something like £150 for a shoot – which is still much cheaper than a usual Kim Ayres Photography Shoot – it would allow me to ensure the quality would be as high as possible within the limitations.

And if I included a £100 voucher to put towards a proper Kim Ayres Photography Shoot once this is all over, then for anyone who cashes that in, these Doorstep Portraits become more of a sample session.

And what if I give 10% to the local Castle Douglas Development Forum, which has been incredible at organising a food bank and helping those who are shielded and most vulnerable in our region.

And now I suddenly had a vision of doing something that would:

a) give me an excuse to use my camera
b) enable people to have a few wonderful photos capturing memories in these extraordinary times
c) lay the foundations for future business without compromising my integrity
d) contribute to a local charity
e) make me feel I was doing something positive

Friends of ours recently bought a small painting from Maggie, so as I was going to deliver it to them I thought it might give me a chance to try out a bit of Doorstep Photography. They were happy to be my guinea pigs, so as well as having a bit of a chat and catch up outside the front of their house – at least 3m apart at all times – I took a few photos of them.

It was fun, it was enjoyable, and I was pleased with how the photos turned out.

It showed me I could do this, even within the multiple limitations, and create photos worth keeping.

So now I've set up a page on my website, offering Doorstep Portraits
on terms which I feel don't compromise my integrity, and give the people something really worthwhile at what is still an incredibly low price, especially if they decide to use the voucher at a later date.

Unfortunately, unless you live within a few miles of Castle Douglas, you won't be able to take me up on this offer.

But if you know anyone who does, be sure to let them know :)


savannah said...

What a wonderful idea! You've given the process a lot of thought so your work isn't compromised, sweetpea. I do wish we were closer, but our professional photoshoot will have to wait! Like you, Captain Chaos hasn't been able to work in his field either, so he made a video of his COVID-19 experiences here in our neighborhood. xo

(I've seen you on that other social media site, so I had forgotten to check your blog!)

Kim Ayres said...

Savannah - in my "one-day-when-everything-is-fine-again" thoughts/hopes, I so look forward to meeting up with you in person :)

I have to confess I'm finding it a little disappointing that I seem to have lost almost my entire audience. When I look at the stats for my blog, the visits are less than 5% of what they were at one point.

But I guess that's what happens when you neglect it for so long. The problem is how to rebuild an audience when everyone spends their time on that other social media site?

Ponita in Real Life said...

I also live too many thousands of miles away to take you up on this offer. And besides it would just be me and probably my old cat, Pips, who is quite fearless. The other three are very much scaredy cats. I hope this project brings you some business. Those are lovely photos you've shown. I love the one of the girl in the tree.

Kim Ayres said...

Ponita - I still have an idea of one day heading across the Atlantic with a map of North America, and a series of dots where everyone I know on the continent lives, with lines drawn between them, and a couple of months to travel and meet up with everyone.
As unlikely as it ever was that I might accomplish this, unfortunately it now feels even further away, unless a vaccine ever is discovered.

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