On episode 69 of The Edge of Innovation, we’re talking with photographer Al Pereira about what it’s like to be a freelance photographer and run a photography store.

Show Notes

Advanced Photo’s Website
Contact Al Pereira
Find Al Pereira on Facebook
Find Al Pereira on LinkedIn
UPI – United Press International
The Eagle Tribune
Large Format Epson Professional Printers
4K: What You Need to Know
Why Save Old Negatives?
Link to SaviorLabs Assessment


The Conundrum of Being a News Photographer
A Day in The Life of a News Photographer
Opening The Photography Store – “Advanced Photo”
If You Want To Stay In Business
Dealing With Digital Images
Color Perception
Printers in The Photography Shop
4K Video Cameras

A Day in The Life of a Freelance Photographer

The Conundrum of Being a News Photographer

Paul: So let’s step back. I’ve been a news photographer. And, you have this conundrum or question that comes up when you take pictures of bad things, and then you see it on the newspaper. I got a front-page article once about a very bad car accident, and you’re sort of like, “Well, am I taking advantage of that car accident? Or am I…?” How, how did you deal with that? I know how I did.

Al: You know, back then, news was different. And I’ve always believed that we need to educate people and not always in the good way because bad things happen to people. And if you shelter people, they’re never going to know what reality is. So I’ve seen good, and I’ve seen horrible things. And I’ve captured horrible things, and some of them couldn’t even be printed because it’s not allowed. I’ve always been a firm believer that people need to see reality. And when I took a picture of an accident, it was to basically educate people that it could happen to them. So, don’t let this happen to you. I dealt with it always in an informative, educational kind of way versus, “It’s a job, and I need to do it” kind of thing.

Paul: Yeah, that’s most of the photographers I’ve talked to that have been… News photographers have really focused on the fact that, it’s a hard world out there, and you’re not doing people any favors to not show them how bad a car accident can be. I think we can always all remember — at least I do from high school — seeing in class, the bus full of kids getting in an accident and how bad it was. And it was a certain shock value. But it’s really to show you that these are serious, serious issues and so it, it’s hard bringing good news — not just good news — bad news.

Al: Because that’s our reality.

Paul: Right exactly. And there is a lot to news photography that’s not just the accident. It’s the meet-and-greet and the ribbon cutting and the pinewood derby at the local Cub Scouts and things like that.

A Day in The Life of a News Photographer

Al: You know, it’s funny. I’ve always said I could be doing an accident one, one second, and then all of a sudden, I’m doing somebody’s 80th birthday party that’s newsworthy. And it was always exciting because you really never knew what you were going to get.

When I was working for the Eagle Tribune, one week out of the month, I’d be working the day shift. I had the second shift. And for some reason, that week was always busy for me. And this particular week, I went out on the road looking for something, and all of a sudden over the radio, police scanner, there was a report of a bear on top of a tree. Okay? These was in Lawrence, Massachusetts. So I said, “A bear…” So they dispatched a cruiser to give them the address. I went down there. Surely behold, there was a 250-pound bear on top of this one tree in downtown Lawrence in somebody’s backyard. It was tremendous. We had everybody from, the fire department, police department, the environment— You name it, they were there. And they finally had to tranquilize the bear, and the bear came down. We put him in the back of a truck in a cage. I actually followed them to the Berkshires to let it go. I was a good news photographer. I loved spot news because you never knew what you were going to get into. I’ve been in the middle of shootings.

Paul: I’ve never done that.

Al: I could tell you stories. But it was always fascinating what I did. And I really enjoyed it because the next day, it would be on the front page or inside, and I’d say, “I hope somebody takes this, for what it’s worth.” You know.

I’ll give you one funny story here, another one. North Andover, again, but this time, they were very, very secretive. And I heard 50 kids are going to be taken in. 50 kids? Okay. And then they actually gave the address out over the radio. And I took a reporter. I said, “I don’t know what this is, but we have to go.” It was only down the street from the Eagle Tribune.

So I see the few cruisers, very quiet. A few cruiser in front of this house. I park. I checked my equipment out of the trunk of my car. I put on my flash, get it all set. All of a sudden, I looked up. I’m facing the house. I looked up. On the second floor, the window opens up. At this time, one of the cops that was inside the house sees us, and he comes over to the door and puts his hands on his side, not saying anything. I looked up and there was a leg coming out the window. Okay? I snapped it. So there’s this leg and half body out the window. There’s this cop standing in front of the door. One snap. I said, “We’ve got to get out of here.”

I went back. It was shot. It was exposed properly. Now normally you would do five by sevens, eight by tens so the editors can see the next day. I did an eleven by fourteen print of this one here because it was spectacular. The next day I come in. I look at the front page. Three-quarters of the page. It was awesome. For like a month later, I was getting letters on sound off or compliments on the photo. And one of the sound off people said, “I think that’s my son coming out of that window.”

So that, you know, there’s good and there’s bad, and there’s funny and different and so forth. So it, it’s been a good career.

Opening The Photography Store – “Advanced Photo”

Paul: Okay. Alright. So it’s 1992. You decide to start a photography store.

Al: Well, Advanced Photo actually. I didn’t want to just start a photo store, and a photo store could mean anything. It could be a one-hour photo. It could be one-hour photo and selling equipment. It could be just about anything. But I wanted to make it kind of a specific thing. I didn’t want to get into cameras because there was just too many people, too many companies in the area selling camera equipment. I wanted to be a photo store that would be able to offer, services that other photo stores wouldn’t or couldn’t. But I also wanted to still continue doing the weddings and the portraits and the pet photography and so forth. So I opened up Advanced Photo with that in mind.

Paul: Okay. Yeah, because it is unique. I mean, you go, and there are the one-hour photo places. I mean, there’s the drugstores. And they get a high-school kid that basically pushes a button. And they’re trying to say they can do everything but there’s not a skilled person sitting between the computer and the chair—

Al: That’s correct.

Paul: —you know, who would have been in the darkroom years ago but who is taking the actual photo and making it different or fixing it. And so you do a whole bunch of services. I mean, I know you do, of course, weddings and photos and passports and portraits and commercial photography for products. And you’ll go on site and do stuff. But you also will fix photos, like an old, you know broken—

Al: Photo restoration.

Paul: Restoration and you do video, and so it’s really everything imaging based. You could almost change in to Advanced Imaging if people knew what that meant.

If You Want To Stay In Business

Al: Right. I’ve always said that if you want to stay in business, there’s a few things you really need to do. One thing is you really need to enjoy what you do. You need to consider everything you do like it’s for yourself. And by thinking that way, you’re going to do the best you can for all your customers. Okay? I’ve always been a firm believer that you explain to the customer the things that are the places where you, for example, if you brought a roll of film in, or nowadays, digital, for example. If it’s underexposed, overexposed, it’s not shop. It’s pixelated, it’s this and that… Well, what’s causing this? I was always want to educate my customers. 25 years later, I’m still there and for a reason. And I’ve always treated everybody’s work like my own.

I remember one time, I had prints on the floor, and a customer comes in and says, “What are all those prints on the floor?”

And I picked them up. I said, “These are my rejects.”

And he says, “Well, they look good to me.”

I says, “Well, no, see the color’s a little bit yellow.”

“They look good to me, Al.”

So I was a perfectionist. I’ve always been a perfectionist. And I’m a firm believer that you gotta go above and beyond for your customer. You gotta make them look good or better than what they really are.

Paul: Right. Yeah, well, they got to put on their best look. I mean, if they had spinach in their teeth, that’s not necessarily your responsibility. It was as a photographer. But it’s like, well, that’s not really pleasing, and it’s not going to reflect well on you when somebody sees it.

Dealing With Digital Images

Paul: Things have changed. But almost, the more things have changed, the more they stay the same. It, it’s easier certainly to deal with digital images.

Al: Not really.

Paul: Not really? Why?

Al: Because there’s a lot of clicking has to go on where you would get a roll of film; you’d process the film; you’d put it in a machine, and you would actually look at every image, and you’d push a button to make it go. Where it’s clicking; it’s mouse related, and it’s a lot more work than it was before.

Paul: Yeah, that’s true. We had some photos taken here a couple of months ago, and we wanted to reshoot them. And just to print them out was a hassle, you know. And if it were the old world, I would have had an envelope with four by six or five by seven prints in it. And so while it’s maybe easier, it’s less convenient. And so now it’s left to me to do that. And that gets expensive. Ink is expensive.

Al: You have to have the equipment that you never imagined you needed. For example, computers. I never saw myself with a computer in front of me. No background in computers. I mean, it was very confusing. But look at me know. I’m not a computer wiz when it comes to fixing them, but I’m a computer wiz when it comes to Photoshop and photo restoration.

Color Perception

Paul: Yeah, you sure are. And also color perception.

Al: Right.

Paul: That’s one thing that I’ve always been impressed with is, I’m a pretty good technician. I can technically do something, but you’ll walk up to a photo I’m working on, and you say, “That’s all red.”

And I’m like, “I don’t know.” You know, and then I let you just fix the color, and it’s just funny. I just— that just doesn’t click for me. I’m not colorblind. And once you point it out, it’s blatantly obvious.

Al: It’s right there.

Paul: But it’s not seen before it’s pointed out. And that’s, I think, the key. So that person that walked into your shop and saw a picture — “Well, it looks good to me” — well, I think there’s a lot of things that contribute to what makes a picture go, “Wow.” And it’s the things you don’t see. You know, it’s the little things like the background having a pole coming out of somebody’s head and all those kind of things.

Al: Well, you don’t fix them unless you’re the photographer taking the photo.

Paul: Right. Yes, exactly. Yeah. The pole…you can, sort of, maybe. But it’s a lot of work. But what I’m saying is that all those little subtle perceptions — you know, the color, the tilt or angle of the photo. Some of them can be “style,” but it really takes a good set of eyes.

Al: That’s right. You know, I’ve experienced a lot of different customers in my 25 years of Advanced Photo. And quite a few times my competitor’s machine would be broken, and folks would come in and say, “I have this, print, the negative here. Can you match the colors?” And every single time, I would look at the print that was printed by my competitor, and I’d say, “Well, could I ask you a question? Are your kids’ hair green?”

And they say, “What do you mean, they’re green?”

Well, can you look at the original here. And they wouldn’t see it. So I said, “Do you have a few minutes?” And I would turn around, and I would print it, and I would go back to them and not show them which one was mine and which one was my competitor’s. But I’d say, “Okay, here is is your print. Which one is the one that you brought in?” And they would always pick mine. Okay? They, don’t see color. They don’t see the imperfections.

Paul: Right. Well, they know it when they see it, but they just can’t identify it.

Al: Well, right.

Paul: And they say, “That looks better.” It’s like eating food. You know, it’s sort of—

Al: Well, when they see mine and when they see theirs, now they see it. But because they’re so used to what — oh, it must be me. I used to, “Here. Oh, that’s my camera.” And they told me, “it’s my camera,” when it’s really not.

Paul: Right. It’s not a camera issue.

Al: You know, there’s a difference between getting somebody’s job and sitting there, looking at every photo and making corrections as needed than it is just to push a button and walk away. And I don’t do that. I can’t do that. Never have been able to do that.

Printers in The Photography Shop

Paul: Right. So, now you have, it’s a tremendous investment. But you’ve got a printer that can print — what? — 48 inches wide?

Al: 42. I have one that can print 42-inch wide by life-size. I have a 24-inch wide Epson also that can print 24 wide by whatever size. Then I have two other printers. One is does from wallets all the way up 12 by 19. And other one will do from wallets all the way up to 8 by 12. But this particular printer, the reason I really bought it was because it does Christmas cards and folded cards, double-side printing and so forth which is spectacular quality.

Paul: That’s neat. So, you have basically all the services somebody could need when it comes to imaging. Now you also do video.

Al: Yes.

4K Video Cameras

Paul: Again, I’m sort of a techie, so I go towards the, the technical stuff, but I know you’re doing 4K video, which most people don’t have a way to even watch 4K, let alone even on a computer. But it will come. It will be there. It’s 4K video is basically HD times four. So it’s effectively having four HD screens, one on each corner. And so it’s a big picture with a lot of data but you have cameras that shoot HD and 4K and edit those. And you do that for… I guess you do it for weddings, but you also do it for corporate work.

Al: Yep. As a matter of fact, I just did a job yesterday for a Mother and daughter that came up with this great idea for inserting different things on the outside of their boots. So, for example, if you buy a pair of boots and it’s black, you’re limited in your attire. What they came up with a way to change the face of the boot by inserting something else that will go with your outfit. They actually, got asked to go on to a shopping network and also they have been featured in Good Housekeeping. So they came in yesterday. I videotaped them with their boots, explaining how it works and so forth, and I also did a portrait session on them for Good Housekeeping.

So, you know, again, you have to diversify. And over the years, I’ve diversified. You go to my website and you look at all the services that Advanced Photo offers. Technically speaking, it’s one person doing all of that — from wedding photography to video. Okay, well, I can’t do both, but I’ll do one or the other. Okay? Pet photography, corporate photography, family portraits inside or outside, photo restoration, scanning of slides, negatives. I’ve had the weirdest negatives according to certain people at, negatives that are made out of the metal thin.

Paul: Oh, yeah. Uh-huh.

Al: I’ve had those glass negatives, eight by ten negative. Those are huge. So I do all that, you know. I have had people bring in artwork valued at 100,000, 200,000, and they wanted me to make copies for them or even just digitize them. So I’m all over the place when it comes to my services.

More Episodes:

You’ve been listening to Part 2 of our interview with Al Pereira. Stay tuned for Part 3! If you missed Part 1, you can listen to it here!

Also published on Medium.