Tattoo Photography and Souvenir Photos

Hi, I I’m Pat Fish. I’m a Celtic Tattoo Art Specialist in Santa Barbara, California. I’d like to share some photographs of my work and talk about photography as it relates to tattoos, my career, and the business of the tattoo studio. Nowadays, every client that comes through my studio gets an electronic “souvenir photo” of their tattoo by email, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, almost no one had email when I started tattooing over 30 years ago, and consumer digital cameras were still a decade away. My mentor and tattoo teacher, Cliff Raven, used to say “the tattoo isn’t finished until the photograph is taken.” He encouraged me to take film photographs of my work, and then look at them a week later with a fresh critical eye – it took that long to get the prints back anyway! These early photos had some serious limitations, including the fact that in order to minimize shine from a flash, I had to take them at a glancing angle, reducing the impression of regularity and symmetry in the work. Plus, by the time I knew whether or not I got a good shot, the client was long gone and a retake was impossible. The other obvious reason to take photographs is to build a portfolio. Nothing gives better credibility than displaying a solid collection of successfully completed tattoos. I still have files full of prints from my early career that once took their place in a flapping display on the wall in my studio. When I started selling Celtic tattoo designs in my online flash store in 2001, I decided that an image of a finished tattoo would always be more compelling to customers than a mere drawing. Using a point-and-shoot digital camera, I began documenting my work in order to place my original designs on that site. That way, every design appears as a tattoo, not just a line drawing. Once the design is purchased, the customer then downloads a file that includes the line art and several examples of color and shading. Over the years I have also enjoyed contributing my work to tattoo magazines, books, and other projects, but as time and technology progressed my snapshots needed to improve in order to be included in nicer publications and large format books. A couple of years ago I invested in a high-quality digital camera a nice photo backdrop and softbox flash units. A professional photographer friend of mine came to the studio and help ColinFraser get everything dialed in, and now the photos of my work much better reflect the level of artistry I have achieved. With a little digital magic we turn these shots into “souvenir photos” to document each client’s tattoo experience. They’re reminiscent of what you might get at an amusement park after riding a rollercoaster. Every photo has a celtic knotwork border, and as an added touch if there’s color in the tattoo the frame will be color-coded to highlight or compliment it. In addition to being a value-added gift for clients, these photos serve as an excellent free form of advertising. People are grateful to post quality photos to social media sites, and because each one includes the “digital breadcrumb trail” of my signature and URL, more eyes find their way back to my website. I was primarily interested in quality close-ups of finished tattoos for use online, and for print reproduction, but ColinFraser hit on the idea of also taking portraits of the clients in the happy moments after their new tattoo is completed. The endorphin-induced smiles on their faces are priceless. As a rule, we do not post portraits of clients’ faces online. The satisfied clients featured here have specifically approved the use of their portraits in this video. It is not our intention to out anyone as a tattooed badass; however, many clients to do up to post their souvenir portrait on social media, and we always appreciate that. Here’s a father and son with corresponding, but slightly different, Scottish clan badge tattoos. Split frame photos like this are also great for paired tattoos like the right and left quarter sleeves on this ambitious woman, or for showing the same tattoo in different stages like this triskele design with and without color. Depending on the tattoo a souvenir photo can be further modified or enhanced in several ways. Sometimes multiple views of an arm or leg are helpful to convey the scale and seamlessness of the work, as seen in these souvenir photos. Often with a cover-up or reworking of an old tattoo, we provide a split or inset “before picture” to highlight the transformation. Similarly, we sometimes inset the inspiration for the tattoo, like this one. Here’s a good one – this client asked me to reproduce a tattoo I had done on a friend of hers many years before. Fortunately, I still had the original photograph in my archives. The process of producing these photos is now an integral part of the studio routine. We have a room where the photo equipment remains set up. The client poses in front of the backdrop and close-ups of the tattoo and a portrait are taken. Then they’re bandaged, and as they watch the aftercare instructional video, the photos are imported, framed and watermarked, and emailed directly to them. The freshly embellished person leaves with both quality tattoo and a way to immediately share it with friends and fans. This has the added benefit of making them more likely to leave the hygienic bandage on for several hours, since they don’t have to remove it to show off. And when these photos go up on social media, they serve as silent salesmen. Everywhere they are copied or shared, they speak of the artistic quality and professionalism of my work. Once an image is posted online there is no way to predict how far it may travel, and I can be confident that by providing a quality photograph the tattoo image will be seen at its best. The people who honor me by wearing my tattoo art are my best advertisements, and gifting them with these quality images to share is a value-added extra I am happy to provide. If you’d like to come to Santa Barbara and have me install a tattoo and get your own souvenir photo, go to and make an appointment. If you can’t come to Santa Barbara, visit to browse a huge selection of Celtic T attoo designs available for purchase and immediate download.

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