In an age when just about everyone owns a camera of some kind, why do we still need the professional photographer? As someone trying to make a living from my camera I’ve got strong views on this topic, and I’ve broken them down into five key categories.
1: Photography Is Easy
Well, it’s true that taking photos has never been easier: modern cameras and smartphones will do all the technical stuff for you, so your photos will all be in focus and correctly exposed. However, making good photographs is about much more than just pointing and clicking. I spent five years studying photography at College and University – it certainly doesn’t take that long to learn how to use a camera! The bulk of my learning was about aesthetics and visual awareness – what makes some photos “work” while others don’t.
When shooting any subject set the camera control to “Manual”: you should be in control of the camera settings in order to produce the desired effect. More importantly, be constantly aware of the composition of the image, the lighting, the background and the timing of the shot. All of these things are learned through training and years of experience.
A good photographer can make successful photos with a poor camera but a poor photographer won’t necessarily take better pictures with a great camera.
2: Photographers Charge Too Much
The hourly rate for a photographer might seem high but think what you’re getting for your money. Consider the benefit of years of experience and technical knowledge and the confidence that the job will be done well. After the photographer has gone home their job isn’t over. The photos need to be downloaded to the computer and sorted, proofs are produced so you can choose the best ones, then they will be edited/retouched to a professional finish. Don’t forget that working on location also means you have to factor in time for travelling, so when you think about all of that, perhaps the fee isn’t excessive after all.
Price is obviously a factor when choosing someone to do a job but there is some truth in the saying “you get what you pay for”, particularly with a once in a lifetime event like a wedding. There are plenty of very cheap photographers around but just be careful: ask yourself if it’s worth the risk of ruining a big day just to save a few pounds.
3: You Can Fix It Later In Photoshop
The arrival of digital photography dramatically changed the way photographers work and think about pictures, and has made some aspects of the job much easier. Being able to check the images while you’re still shooting is a fantastic advantage over the days of film, when you just had to “know” you’d done everything right.
The invention of Photoshop and its like is undoubtedly a wonderful thing and allows photographers to adjust and refine photos in ways that were unthinkable a few years ago. However, the internet is overflowing with photos that have very obviously been Photoshopped to within an inch of their lives. I prefer to keep my editing subtle so the original photo can shine through. Relying on Photoshop to correct your mistakes encourages lazy working practices when shooting: you shouldn’t think “it’s OK, I’ll fix it later”.
It is much better to get everything right in the camera, so you don’t have to spend hours in front of a computer screen correcting things that should have been right in the first place. I use Adobe Lightroom for most of my editing. It’s great for making the small adjustments to colour and exposure that are always needed. A good photo succeeds because of traditional values such as composition, timing and lighting; over-enthusiastic use of Photoshop won’t make a bad picture good.
4: Being A Professional Photographer Is Glamorous
Sadly this is a myth. Being a professional is hard work, no matter who or what you are photographing. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job but glamour rarely comes into it. Most of my time is taken up with such thrilling tasks as updating my website, writing blogs, filling in tax returns, chasing unpaid bills, editing photos and seeking new clients.
I have occasionally done shoots that are theoretically glamorous – catwalk fashion shows and modelling shoots, but once behind the camera I’m focusing on getting the best shot, not living the high life. More often I find myself outdoors on a freezing February morning photographing waste recycling units and dodging snow showers. Such is the life of a photographer!
5: I Could Do Your Job
It’s true that anyone can take photographs (see point 1 above) but being a professional is about much more than pointing your camera in the right direction. You need the skills to deal with clients on the phone and in person, ensure you’ve been given a clear brief before starting the job and behave in a professional manner at all times.
I try to respond to email enquiries within the day and to follow up with a phone call a couple of days later. A quick response shows that you’re on the ball.
I dress smart no matter what the job. It isn’t appropriate to turn up in jeans and a t-shirt if someone is paying you good money. I often work on industrial locations so also have a high-vis jacket, steel toe-capped boots and a yellow safety helmet. Without these I wouldn’t be allowed onto many sites.
It’s essential to have a clear brief, preferably in writing, before doing the job. A verbal agreement is open to misunderstanding so I always make sure that the client has stated what kind of photos they need, how many shots, whether they’re landscape or portrait etc. Often they will provide examples of the type of shot they’re looking for, which is always helpful.
Once the job is done I aim to get the photos edited and returned to the customer within a few days. There’s nothing more irritating than being kept waiting for weeks after the shoot before getting to see your pictures.
So, to sum up, even though most people now have a camera of some kind there’s a huge difference between taking snapshots and shooting photos as a profession. A large part of a photographer’s time is taken up with other, hidden, tasks that all contribute to the final package. As well as their skill with a camera, that’s what you’re paying for.