Saturday, April 25, 2015

You're a Professional Photographer You Say?

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Some of this might sound like a bitter old shooter ranting but, in my non-bitter opinion, there are too many people these days calling themselves "professional photographers" who, frankly, don't have the skills or experience -- leastwise, at their current, near-entry-level skills and experience levels -- to be marketing themselves as professional photographers for hire and expecting others to part with their hard-earned money for less than professional work.
I don't care if you've spent thousands and thousands on gear, if you don't have the skills to use that gear in ways that consistently produce professional results, you don't yet deserve to call yourself a "professional" and  probably shouldn't be seeking professional work until you have such skills. A human, camera-toting version of a coin-operated photo booth isn't a professional photographer any more than a vibrating Stratolounger represents a professional masseuse.

Just because someone purchases a hammer, a saw, and other carpentry tools, perhaps the best hammers, saws, and what-have-you that are made, doesn't mean they automatically have the skills and experience to hire themselves out as a custom home builder or seek employment as a journeyman cabinet maker.

I somewhat regularly see brand-spanking-new and new-ish photographers on photography forums who obtain paid, professional work and, once the work is obtained, they're asking people in the groups to tell them how to shoot the work they've obtained.

Are you shitting me?  You went after a gig, scored the gig -- probably on price and bullshit promises -- and now you need to ask others how to make good on what you, no doubt, warranted to the client/customer you can deliver? Nice con... because that's what it is, a con. 

Oh? The client/customer suddenly threw a curve ball at you with something unusual for part of the shoot and you haven't a clue how to shoot that curve ball part? Too freakin' bad. You should, at least, have a clue, more than a clue, how to shoot practically any client-thrown curve balls. If not, don't go after paid professional gigs you're not yet qualified to shoot. At what point are you qualified to take on those gigs? That's certainly a gray area. Probably different for many. But here's my advice: don't let your ego (your Twinkletoes as I wrote about in my last update) be the ultimate deciding factor. You know, because you've snapped a few good pics when you were shooting just for yourself.

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Most skilled and experienced professional photographers aren't one-trick ponies even if many focus on a specific genre. Pro shooters, actual pro shooters, are versatile. They can adapt and call on their skills and experience to bat almost any curve ball a client throws. Often enough, bat it out of the park. If not out of the park, they can swat base hit after base hit when clients throw those curve balls. And clients toss them all the time, curve balls that is. Sometimes, they don't toss them till you show up at the gig... which doesn't afford someone the luxury of going on a photo forum and asking others how to shoot it. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against asking for or giving shooting advice.  But there's a big difference between seeking advice from others while you're learning and relying on others to tell you how to do something you don't have a clue about, but you already warranted to someone else, a client or customer, that you can deliver the goods. (Either directly warranted by lying about your experience or indirectly by virtue of your hyper-inflated "pitch," selling yourself as the "professional" photographer for the job. Most any photography job.)

I certainly don't know how to shoot everything so, if/when I'm asked about shooting something that I don't know how to shoot with a fair amount of skill and knowledge, guess what? I don't take those jobs.  Instead, I steer the client to some shooters who, IMO, do know how to shoot it. (And that's happened a fair number of times.)

Again, this update isn't me being bitter or angry about inexperienced, unskilled or marginally-skilled photographers going after paid work they are likely too green to competently produce. It's not me complaining there are too many photographers pursuing paid work these days. It's not me saying less-skilled and less-experienced photographers can't become skilled and experienced photographers warranting being paid. It's simply me saying photographers, like any other skilled professionals, should first pay their dues by investing in learning plus spending plenty of time practicing what they've learned. Once they know what they're doing via learning and practice, i.e., they've become skilled, truly skilled, then go after paid work and start accumulating professional experience.

Just because you can do some tricky looking shit with PS, LR, or some other software or apps doesn't make you a professional photographer any more than knowing how to make a few good meals in your kitchen makes you a professional chef. You might be able to handle being a short-order cook at Denny's with those marginal skills but short-order cooks aren't chefs and, just so you know, Denny's doesn't hire chefs. They hire cooks. Similarly, most professional photography clients aren't looking to hire the entry-level short-order cook versions of photographers. They're looking to hire the chef versions. Can most anyone become a chef or a professional photographer? Sure. But it doesn't happen overnight and it doesn't happen without a serious investment in learning followed by plenty of practice.

The pretty girl in the photos is Paris. Snapped it in-studio against a grey seamless using my Mola "Euro" beauty dish for a main light, slightly camera right and also slightly warmed with a small piece of Roscoe's "Bastard Amber" gel attached to the Mola's glass baffle. A pair of medium Chimera strip boxes, either side from behind, provided edge-lighting on the model. I also boomed a small, rectangular, soft box overhead from behind for a hair light, attaching black foil to the bottom of the hair light to flag it, i.e., to keep its light from bleeding onto the seamless.


Lynne Battista said...

I haven't a clue what I am doing but people have offered to pay me to photograph and/or videotape their bands & I refused. Told them I am in no way a photographer & could never accept money for what I do now. I think the people you refer to have the idea that they can use a tutorial off the internet & be an expert. I thought so at first. Then I bought a camera & started REALLY TRYING to learn & there is soooo very much to it that I know I will never learn it all in my lifetime (old) so I am just trying to learn to be good at it but not for money.

Ken Tam said...

Sigh! it is true... and they taught client photography should be cheap, fast and good.

There are too much damage in our field.

And I belive client should learn again to see what is work.

TimLarge said...

So very true, the number of basic questions you get on forums from so called Professionals I find amazing.

Including things like

"when shooting under studio lights, what should I increase the shutter speed to when I need to freeze the action"

"I thought royalty free meant you gave images away for free"


Dan Cheetham said...

I was actually searching your blog for something else when i saw this!
Stopped to read it as generally, always worth a read, but I consider it pertinent to my situation ..
Yesterday I had my very first gig. A family portrait thing, you know the type, 5 generations if the same family etc etc.
Anyway, the Matriarch had seen some of my stuff, and literally gushed "oh you must do my family portraits" etc etc
Initially I declined.
Its not something I do, I said. Its a hobby I said.
She didn't give up, then enticing me with money.....
I still said no ..
Then I thought, why not? Good experience at any rate, and there has always got to be a first time right?
So, I reluctantly said yes. On the proviso that I will shoot the photos etc, but they are to view the finished articles as a family, then pay me what they think they are worth ...
This could go badly wrong! But I figure if my work is good enough, they won't take the proverbial, and if it is bad, it should be reflected in the 'contribution'
I had the Matriarch around this morning ... to show via big screen the images I had selected (and would submit if I had been contracted to do the job)
She made all the right noises ... But I am an Englishman, they ALL make the right noises ...

Anyway, I don't consider my self a 'pro' I don't consider myself that good. But I AM my biggest critic ..
I consider I have a LONG way to go. Additionally I have never pointed myself in this direction, its just something I like doing. If this means I get to make some pocket money, doing something I like.... That makes me lucky right?
When I started photography, I had to wait to see what the images looked like.
You remember? When we had to wait days or even weeks to see the finished article? When getting a shot wrong was heartbreaking because you took it days ago, and had to save your pennies in order to get the film developed? When you could actually attribute a monetry value to an image, as you could divide the cost of your developing, by 36?
Sorry, I am getting into the realms of vitriol!
Anyway, I do get the feeling nowadays, that its considered an 'easy' job. Shoot, Look, Delete or PostProcess .... Gone are the days of self realisation and actual practice, or at least a time served period to learn your craft. I get the impression now, that of the few "Pros" I have spoken to, it is learnt in a classroom, and unless you have that "qualification" you cannot take a photo ....
Bit like saying Miss Daisy could race in F1 .....

Anyway, I waffle.

In short I agree with the original blog!