So I know that many of you out there don’t follow the photography industry, of course, but overall we are up in arms today. A “rock star” photographer (a term used for photographers who quickly rise to the top of the teaching/workshop circuit with little photography experience themselves, usually because they are cute, charismatic, and encouraging) has sent out a free “10-step” guide offering advice on how to start up your photography business. These steps are NOT based in quality education, practice, and healthy critique of your work, and needless to say, the website is making many hardworking, well trained photographers upset. This kind of thing has been building up for a very long time in our world, and this new website seems to be the very heavy piece of straw breaking the camel’s back.
Normally I would never post anything like this, but I feel like it’s time to say something to my clients and friends about the photography world and the reality within it. We’d be kidding ourselves if we tried to say that photography wasn’t more accessible to more people than ever before. Today, parents can take a better quality photo with their smartphone than could be taken with a digital camera as little as 5-10 years ago. As little as $500 can buy a great entry-level DSLR and put a family within reach of the best technology in the industry. The day-to-day photos are looking better and better, and a few great comments on Facebook and we are soaring with pride.
However, with that kind of accessibility and the natural attraction to great photography, there is a flood of new photographers to the market, creating more of a market of selling workshops, props, Photoshop tools, and cute camera accessories than there is in being a photographer. Many photographers start because they love the praise of their work, they fall in love with buying new gadgets, or they think it’s a great way to make a “little extra cash on the side.” More often than not, these photographers charge just a few dollars to snap a bunch of photos, pick out the few that are salvageable, run some trendy effects on them, and burn them to a disc. They do not pay taxes, have a business license, continue their education, carry a liability insurance policy, keep their legal ducks in a row, or even take care to have back-up equipment. This places a strain on the entire industry, lowering the perceived price point of what it takes to run a photography business.
I am NOT against having competition in the marketplace. There are more than enough weddings, cute babies, high school seniors, and even commercial jobs to go around to have a healthy, thriving photography industry, even in a smaller town. The problem is when these photographers, encouraged by the “rockstars” who have started to make more money telling new photographers what they want to hear rather than what they need to know, are being sold short. They are being lied to, cheated, and they are unknowingly damaging an entire industry.
So why are you paying a professional photographer anyway? With all the great technology, can’t you just spend the money on a great camera and do it all yourself? Because a true professional photographer has learned to work in any lighting situation to flatter you and your family, can create lighting effects with an advanced knowledge of studio lighting, has a mastery of posing techniques, is well-versed in working with the subjects they photograph whether it be babies, kids, engaged couples, wedding parties, events, or even products and food, and has an excellent understanding of the digital darkroom, knowing how to employ techniques in Photoshop and other software programs to refine, enhance, and create classic images that will stand the test of time. Just “a camera that takes nice pictures” won’t handle any of these areas.
And now you think I’ve completely lost it…but why? Because I want the photography-service buying public to know what they are getting into when they choose a photographer. There are great photographers in my area and across the country, and I want you to choose one of them the next time you choose to invest in portrait photography (and yes, it is an investment – you are commissioning an artist to make art pieces of your family, and photography is the medium). You do not have to choose me, but I want you to choose someone serious and legitimate, so I’ve put together a few tips for choosing a photographer:
1. Realize that custom photography can cost more than you might expect. Photographers who are serious about their business pay taxes (Hiring someone who doesn’t pay taxes may save you a few dollars, but it hurts your community – anyone experience school budget cuts lately? No matter how you feel about government budgets, we have tax laws, and they need to be followed.), have insurance policies, have high-quality equipment and backups, keep their books above board, use professional lab services (or have high quality equipment to print in house) and spend a great deal of time refining your images in the editing process, not to mention planning for your session and the time spent in the session itself. If your budget is tight, there are many qualified photographers who run special or limited edition sessions with reduced pricing, or you can decrease how often you get professional portraits made. Amazing portraits that tell the story of your family every other year are worth much more than so-so bland portraits every year.
2. Seeing is believing – and make sure you see everything you can. Photographers who struggle with their skills will often put only very selected images on their blogs, Facebook pages, and websites. Before you plunk down hundreds of dollars for a photographer, ask to see an entire session’s worth of edited images. In particular, never hire a wedding photographer without seeing an entire wedding’s worth of images – not just the album or the few “best of the best” on the web.
3. When it doubt, research certified photographers in your area. Although there are many amazing talented, service-oriented, nothing-but-professional photographers who are out there who choose not to go through the certification process, there is a certification available to serious photographers called the Certified Professional Photographer (CPP). This certification includes image reviews and testing on a wide range of theories, lighting techniques, practical knowledge, and technical photography expertise. To find a CPP in your area, you can visit www.ppa.com and click on “Find a Photographer.”When you do your search, you can click on “Certified Photographers Only ” to filter your results.
4. Ensure that your photographer is insured and has back-up resources. It may be easy to overlook this area – the photographer is just coming to work with your family and taking a few photos, right? However, once you start to think about all the things that go wrong in a session, you’ll know why it’s so important to have a photographer with insurance. These photographers are handling your newborn baby, playing with your kids, and hauling heavy equipment and lights all around your wedding. If something goes wrong, your photographer needs to be insured. In the same vein, if you hire a photographer to photograph your wedding or another event, s/he should have an entire set of back-up equipment in case something malfunctions during the day. If you are working with an independent photographer, that professional should also have strong contacts with other professionals in the area in case an emergency stops him/her from being able to make it to your event.
5. Talk to your photographer to ensure rapport. Whether it’s on the phone or an in-person meeting, make sure you are comfortable with your photographer. Feeling at ease with your photographer will make a world of difference in your finished product.
It hasn’t been my intention to ruffle feathers with this post, but to further educate a buying public that must be confused in what they see when they start looking into custom photography work. It’s my hope that with more client education, we can bring the photography world back up to a standard of excellence.