Getting permission to photograph the (almost) world famous Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine, was less complicated than I originally thought. I’ve had an interest in the Merrill Auditorium ever since I dubbed it “the coolest place ever” when my class took a field trip there in third grade. Attending several shows here as an adult, I coveted its stunning architecture for my portfolio. Recently, I’ve also been getting into HDR photography and some of my favorite photographers have taken amazing HDR photos of elegant interior architecture. If you’re unfamiliar with HDR photography, it’s quite interesting stuff and I recommend you read this (creatively titled) article “What is HDR Photography?“After going through hours of HDR tutorials online, my photographic bones ached to bracket a few stunning frames for myself. Like regular photographs, HDR photos need an excellent subject to look amazing. The Merrill was top of my list for interior architecture in my area to shoot. Unfortunately, unlike an abandoned building, you can’t just waltz into the Merrill Auditorium. However, I figured it couldn’t hurt to take the direct approach and it worked out perfectly.
Here’s how events unfolded
- I emailed the box office staff (full text of that inquiry below).
- The box office forwarded it to the house manager.
- The house manager emailed me with a “yes.”
- I ate several bon-bons while chucking.
Simple right? In case you’re interested in making a similar local connection for a photo shoot, here’s a look at the very basic email I sent to get the ball rolling:
My name is Andrew Marston. I am a local photographer and graphic designer living in South Portland. Growing up in the Greater Portland Area, I’ve had the pleasure of attending several performances at the beautiful Merrill Auditorium. Would it be possible to arrange a time when I would be allowed to photograph the gorgeous architecture and decoration of the interior of the auditorium? I am hoping to build up my architecture and interior photographic portfolio and would gladly give the Merrill a copy of the photographs I take (with rights to use, sell, and reproduce of course). Feel free to view my other photographs on my web site here: www.andrewmarston.com. As you’ll see, they are mostly outdoor, scenic shots from Maine, Japan, and Ecuador.
My schedule is open M,T,Th,F after 5:30pm as well as all day Saturday.
Thank you for your consideration.
Greg, the house manager, replied that I could come the following week for a three hour block when the organ was being tuned. And that was that.
Why this pitch was successful
- I established credibility as a photographer by making my portfolio readily available.
- I was clear about what I wanted (time to shoot). Back-and-forths were spear-headed by relaying my schedule in this initial communication also. Note that I didn’t ask for permission directly, “Would it be possible to arrange a time when I would be allowed to photograph the gorgeous architecture and decoration of the interior of the auditorium?” If the manager was ok with me coming, he would give me a time, if not, he would say no. It wasn’t necessary to ask for both permission and time.
- I didn’t ask for any compensation! I wasn’t being hired, I just wanted to take pretty pictures. In fact, most likely I would’ve paid them to let me in. People can tell greed from sincerity a mile away. If anything, I offered them a trade in their favor. A copy of my images in exchange for time to shoot. I didn’t have to give away the exclusive rights to your images, but made sure to emphasize what they would be receiving out of the deal. (Here’s a great site to learn ALL about image licensing for pros in the photography business)
- Finally, I was professional, polite, and flexible. It’s sort of a no-brainer, but it is important to remember that you’re the one asking for a favor.
Whether you’re a professional photographer or a hobbyist this strategy can go a long way in helping building your portfolio. Happy shooting!
Fun facts about Merrill Auditorium
1. The Auditorium was built in 1912 when a fire destroyed two former halls in Portland. It was originally named “City Hall Auditorium” but was renamed to Merrill Auditorium in 1997 when it was completely renovated.
2. Merrill Auditorium in now one of New England’s finest centers for performing arts and has hosted a variety of talent in its long history including John Philip Sousa, Ray Charles, BB King, Willie Nelson, Jerry Seinfeld, Isaac Stern, operas and Broadway shows.
3. Merrill’s impressive 5,000 pipe Kotzschmar Memorial Organ was donated by a publishing tycoon named Cyrus Curtis. The organ is actually incorporated into the stage.