Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Being an Expert in One Photo Genre Doesn't Make Someone an Expert in All Genres

Wow! There's certainly no lack of photography experts these days. Heck, I've even set myself up as one! (At least in terms of glamour or, as I like to call it, "pretty girl shooting.")

I don't think I'm being egotistical by considering myself as having "expert status" when it comes to pretty girl shooting. Nor is it an outrageous claim. While it doesn't mean I'm the best at shooting pretty girls, it does mean that, when there's a glamour model in front of my camera, I know WTF I'm doing.  At the risk of sounding all full of myself, I can light, pose, compose, and interact with glam models in expert ways. I've got game. I've got expert game. BTW, I didn't learn my game overnight. It took years. Quite a few years. After all the many pretty girl models I've shot, if I hadn't risen to an expert level I'd have to wonder if I might have a serious learning disorder.

None of that means I always produce photos which look they were snapped by a gifted expert. Having expertise doesn't include those sorts of guarantees.  My images are competent. Perhaps better than competent. More importantly, they are consistently competent (or better) with occasional bursts of way better than competent.  Consistency, if you weren't aware, is a hallmark of expertness. Consistency is what experts are known for, leastwise by their clients. No one consistently produces absolutely incredible images. Instead, experts consistently produce competent if not better than competent images. My ability to consistently produce competent or better than competent images is why my clients hire and rehire me, not because I sometimes produce images here and there with true "Wow!" value.

I've been professionally shooting pretty girls for quite a long time and the numbers of models who have found themselves in front of my camera is well into multiple 4-digits.  But that doesn't mean I think of myself as an overall expert on photography in general. Or, that I'm an expert in genres I've never (or have barely) worked in. While my expertise in pretty girl shooting certainly bleeds into a few other genres and, in so doing, gives me some amounts of expert or semi-expert skills when shooting those other genres, I don't think of myself as a true expert in any photo genre except that which I shoot most and shoot best.

What kind of rankles me is the current preponderance of photographers, those guys who made names for themselves in one genre of photography or another, who now seem to be also branding themselves as experts in genres they don't have much experience shooting. Or worse yet, as experts in nearly all genres of photography.  I have to call bullshit on that.  Just because a photographer made his or her bones shooting editorial or nature, food or sports, or nearly anything else of a specific type, it doesn't mean they're experts at shooting other genres outside of the genres they're best known for.

Obviously, like me, some of those folks' expert skills in one genre bleed over into other genres. But that doesn't make them true experts in all genres or even those genres where their expert skills prove very useful.  If you're like me and you follow quite a few expert photographers on Twitter, for instance,  you might have noticed the numbers of overall expert photographers, i.e., photographers who became expert in one or two genres, and who now peddle themselves off as experts in many if not all genres. 

Course, those shooters are generally the people who hope to sell you things like books or various manufacturers' products, or they're producing workshops or seminars. Nothing wrong with selling books or products or producing seminars or workshops providing, of course, the people selling or promoting those things actually and truly know, make that expertly know, what they're talking about.

Here's an example: Let's say a well known wedding photographer starts promoting their own workshops  focused on shooting glamour or fashion models. Sure, plenty of what it takes to produce excellent wedding photos bleeds over onto those two other genres... but plenty of it does not! And if they haven't spent an abundance of time learning to shoot glam or fashion models, trust me, they're not experts at it and probably not qualified to be teaching others beyond the most basic approaches to those genres. Unfortunately, I'm seeing more and more experts (in one genre) targeting genres they really don't have much more experience shooting than a lot of the people they're targeting with the things they're hawking.

Here's my advice: If you're going to buy a book or a product, attend a seminar or a workshop, spend some time vetting the photographer who wrote the book, endorses the product, or is putting on the workshop or seminar. If their backgrounds and experience makes them an expert in one genre, but not the genre their book, product, or workshop happens to be about, I'd recommend passing on parting with your hard earned dough. Chances are, those people don't really know much more about those subjects than you do. Leastwise, not expertly so.

The pretty girl at the top is Faye. (Click to enlarge.) I snapped this one on the walkway just outside her apartment's front door. I used two strobes: My main light modified with a medium-size shoot-thru umbrella, the other rigged with a 30ยบ honeycomb grid set some distance behind her, camera left. Snapped with my Canon 5D with an 85mm prime, ISO 100, f/2.8 at 200th.


Bill Giles said...

I guess that I'm not an expert in any photo genre, but I've been blessed to have learned from a number of photographers who are experts in their genre. Fortunately, I don't have to concern myself with the business of photography. As a recreational photographer, I can be as good or as bad as I choose to be, but I do enjoy the good moments.

jimmyd said...

@Bill: Achieving expert status has nothing to do with whether someone is pursuing photography as a pro or a hobbyist or something in between. Expertise is a product of practice, repetition, experimentation, trying out new gear, techniques,and more, then more practice and repetition. Sooner or later, if one practices, repeats, experiments, tries out new things and practices them, some level of expert status will result. Leastwise, theoretically. :-)

marlowned said...

I agree 100% with you, Jimmy. I see a lot of amazing wedding photographers on Twitter who post their studio, boudoir, etc... work and it's just not as polished as their other work.

Personally, I'm a professional commercial photographer. When friends/family tell me I must have the nicest landscape, or nature photos, they never understand when I tell them "I can only promise consistent studio shots, everything else is just my hobby."

Anonymous said...

No more pics of Faye please. She is such a pretty girl she makes me forget to read your posts!

jimmyd said...

@ Anon: LOL!!!