November 23, 2004

In This Issue of The Acid Staining Newsletter

Good Photos = Better Business

This newsletter is for professional floor stainers who want to increase their share of the market. I am assuming that you do good work, of which you can be proud. The floor you just completed may lead to two or three more jobs due to word-of-mouth, which is a very good form of advertising. We have often done one job in a neighborhood and a year later received a contract for another job on the same street for a friend of the home owner who had known nothing of stained concrete but fell in love with the floors after seeing them “in person.”  The trouble with word-of-mouth is that it is very slow to come to fruition. You can speed up the process a good deal by investing in a PROFESSIONAL photographer.

Now I can just hear the chorus out there saying "I have a great digital camera and my photos look as good as a professional's." I beg to differ. We have found that digital photos are fine for floor details and close-ups, but only a professional photographer with all the right gear knows how to compose a really knockout photo with light-scattering umbrellas to reduce the glare from your sealer so that the details can be seen as well as the overall composition.

A professional who specializes in architectural interiors is what you want. They have cameras with large format negatives (called three-by-fives), so that when your image is enlarged to two feet by three feet and laminated for Home Show Booth display, it loses no resolution, but still looks great.  It takes a professional and practiced eye, also, to balance the surroundings and furnishings in the shot so as to set off your floor like a diamond in its proper setting.  A portrait photographer will have a whole different set of skills and will be expert at making a person look good, but will not have the patience to make hours of adjustments as he sets up the perfect long shot of an interior.

Just as your floors reflect the trials and errors you have been through in years of staining, and are constantly improving, so it is with good photographers. Their skills are not acquired overnight and are worth every penny you spend on them. I have noticed that every frustrated painter in the world seems to pick up a camera next, and declare himself a "photographer." It sure seems easy compared to making stretcher bars, stretching and priming canvas, and spending years learning how to apply oil paints in an interesting and non-muddy way. That is not the kind of photographer I am referring to.

I am talking about the one guy in your city who is hired to do photos for the Home Builder's glossy magazine and most of their ads. His or her work looks like the high-class ads in Architectural Digest. This is a person who will charge at least $500 for a half day working on your shots and who will probably charge you an additional $25 or $35 for each 8 1/2" x 11"  glossy print which you finally receive from him. He or she may only come up with two photos which you both agree are the best and $500 may seem like a lot of money for two good shots, but that investment will pay for itself many times over.

You have all seen the photo of O'Hare's Grille and Pub on the home page of my website. That was the first floor we ever stained, some ten years ago. I was able to hire Jerry Rabinowitz, who shot all the interiors for Su Casa Magazine, on a trade deal. He wanted the floors of his home studio stained and we spent several days cleaning and working on them, as they had been a garage floor. On subsequent jobs we hired him for cold hard cash. It felt painful at the time, just for a couple of prints to Xerox and put in my portfolio, but we have been getting jobs from them ever since. We have even caught one of our rivals walking around with Xeroxed copies of these photos, showing clients what "they can do with acid stain!"

Believe me, architects and wealthy clients can tell the difference between your amateur shot of a completed floor and one that is arranged and shot by a professional. Copied and put into a simple black portfolio with transparent plastic pages, your work will gain stature by being presented the way fine artists the world over have presented their work for centuries. A lot of this (e.g. the black portfolio) is just an accepted tradition, but it says that YOU are a professional, because you care enough to take the trouble to display your work in the finest manner possible. The implication is that you will do the same meticulous work on your client's floors.

The photos here of the blue-green Arcade floor, which we stained this year in Santa Fe, will show you my amateur digital snapshot as compared with a shot of the same area taken by Mr. Patrick Coulie, a professional with a large-format digital camera. 

Photo taken by Gaye Goodman

Photo taken by Patrick Coulie

The close-ups of leaves pressed into a floor were taken by me one afternoon with my digital and are acceptable enough to be printed on the color printer and added to our portfolio as an interesting detail. You can use your own  shots to fill in the gaps in your portfolio and to illustrate the techniques which set you apart from the competition; but you should begin and end the portfolio exhibit with really stunning shots taken by a professional.
A person who is price-shopping and frankly looking for the lowest bidder might be happier if you hand him a stack of amateur snapshots, but the client you want most – the client or architect with a creatively conceived space, who is willing to spare no expense – that’s the kind of person you want to enthrall. This discriminating client might not consciously realize that you are showing him professional photos, but he will be persuaded by them more rapidly than any 2,000 words you can say.

Here is a typical photo with light-dark problems taken of a black floor, including the photographer’s shadow