The very fresh incident with Tennis Australia this past weekend, and my thoughts here about what happened, prompted me to think about the value of a “good” photographer.
I remember when I was going through university, a passing comment by a lecturer about the abuse of the word “engineer”. The comment went something along the lines of, everyone is an engineer, a car mechanic would be called an engineer in order to charge a higher hourly rate. What he was alluding to was that in the purest form, an engineer applies knowledge, ingenuity, mathematics and science to develop solutions for technical problems. The word itself is derived from the Latin roots ingeniare (“to contrive, devise”) and ingenium (“cleverness”).
In a similar vein, the word photographer is derived from Greek φωτός (photos), meaning “light”, and γράφω (graphos), meaning “written”. In this day and age with the pervasiveness of cameras in every day life, anyone can be a photographer. Which I suppose links back to some of my quotes in the Tennis Australia article, namely:
1. Marissa Mayer, CEO Yahoo!, “There’s no such thing as Flickr Pro today because [with so many people taking photographs] there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore.”
2. Chicago Sun-Times lying off the entire photography staff and putting all reporters on iPhone camera training.
If you take a million photos, chances are at least one of them will turn out to be a gem. Probability dictates that. (If probability doesn’t, then statistics is the tool to make you feel better. Trust me, I can make statistics do the macarena.) While that makes you a photographer, the return rates and chance says you are not a “good” photographer. Photography is a fickle mistress and beauty is subjective. Even in the eyes of judges, what they consider a photo that grabs their attention can be very different from anyone else’s. If you don’t believe me, have a listen to what Nathan Oxley has to say about it in our podcast here.
In my mind, a “good” photographer adds value. They create photos that is just that bit better, more eye catching, more showcase. If they are a wedding photographer, one would expect photos that captures the day not just “yet another ceremony”, but with that personal touch, that uniqueness that embodies a unique couple on their very special day. If they are a portrait photographer, one would expect photos that tells me a story before I read the article accompanying it. If I know the photographer, I would probably be able to pick out their photos by their distinctive style.
When I was mulling over the issue of organisations expecting free photography, I remembered reading about a photographer who started a “Crappy vs Snappy” showcase in a clever way to market himself against the mentality where clients feel they can do the job themselves. James Hodgins, an Ontario based photographer, has a gallery of photos on his website with side-by-side comparisons of his professional work versus well, much more ordinary attempts of the same subject. “He either invites clients to tag along on shoots with their own camera or snaps his own crappy images in “P” mode, and then places the results side-by-side with his professional-quality shots. The client rarely needs any more convincing after that.”*
Now I am not going to enter the debate about the level of post-processing and what not. There are some obviously staged differences, more than a few are gimmes with direct flash bouncing off reflection tapes on safety equipment. Other examples, such as this crappy one here reminds yours truly of the first time he went out with a professional photographer on a lesson. When we got to our first location, the wharf at Broome, Western Australia, he said to the group, okay, take a photo. The lot of us pretty much as a group raised our cameras and took photos. Nigel, our professional said, most of you did not move and simply clicked the shutter. The snappy version of the photo shows not only far better lighting, but also a compositional change.
And this is what I am trying to get it. Everyone can be a photographer, but to stand out in you need a lot of attention to details as well as some technical excellence to create a shot you imagined in your head. That consistency to be able to create, perform and excel on demand in any condition, rather than being “lucky” on a shoot is what makes a professional photographer worth every cent. For those organisations who falls back on the lame excuse of not-for-profit, what you are asking for helps your organisation achieve your business goals. You who sends the request out asking for freebies is most certainly not working for free, so why are you asking someone else to?