How you can select a real photographer
In my previous blog posts I have described the definition of a photographer and made the clear distinction between the everyday iPhone shooter and a true industry professional. I encourage you to read that article HERE. In this post I’d like to concentrate more granularly on the difference between beginners and seasoned industry professionals. There is a huge difference between the two in their work ethic, their problem solving ability, their demeanor and most of all the quality of their work. The ability to distinguish between a professional and an amateur is easy, really! In that article I did not cover the differences between amateurs and professionals, but I fully intend to here.
Does the camera matter?
With so many cameras flooding the market at relatively inexpensive prices, the average consumer has access to tools only previously available to working professionals. The costs of a professional digital camera that had the speed, accuracy and image quality back in the day was a dollar sign with five figures after it. The sheer cost of such performance was reserved to the seasoned professionals that had the career and could cover the costs by working in that field. Furthermore, for a professional back then a high priced tool was an investment in their ability to work more quickly and efficiently which is important for any professional.
So here we are, yet again at the same old discussion that plagues clients and photographers alike – does the camera matter? Of course it does! And anybody that tells you otherwise is too insecure about their ability or more likely hides behind their equipment to deliver great photographs. Let’s face it, you can't take NFL pictures with your iPhone and print a front-page spread in Sports Illustrated. You cannot use a point-and-shoot to work in Milan with a model that costs twenty-five grand a day. The reality is, regardless of how you look at it, that a camera is a tool and as any tool goes, they cover a certain need for certain jobs - no more, no less. This doesn't mean that you can’t make great photographs with standard tools, heck I do that all the time, and in fact I'm known for utter simplicity in my toolkit. What I mean is that professional’s pick appropriate tools for the appropriate job which usually implies that their needs are covered according to what they specialize in. Amateurs, never having learned the art of photography however constantly want the latest and greatest thinking the latest and fastest will cover their inability to adapt to different situations; you see, they want the camera to do everything for them. If the camera cannot do everything for them, they use the excuse of "outgrowing their gear". So the more they learn about equipment, the more they yearn and purchase hoping that their next piece of kit will give them that "pro" look.
It's just a tool...
We've all heard it countless times from self-proclaimed “pro’s” who claim that their "camera is just a tool" when somebody remarks at the quality of their camera's output (their pictures). But the fact of the matter is that for allot of photographers in the world this is 100% true – their camera is good and that’s about the only distinction...we're all photographers, remember? Their photographs were a lucky press of a button and have "blurry backgrounds" which makes them cooler then an iPhone, but worthless everywhere else. I see these so-called professionals going to Best Buy all the time trying out the latest and greatest when in fact what they need is to learn the art before they purchase that new camera. Too often I've seen these self proclaimed “pro’s” come in with a $6000 camera claiming that they fart rainbows and are the best thing that’s ever happened to photography. They spend money and automatically think that they are entitled to go and charge people - its amazing! They never ponder to invest the time, blood, sweat and tears in learning this incredibly hard craft. And as expected when I analyse their work it is often atrocious and at best a broken attempt to copy a successful professional's hard earned work and originality.
Too often these amateurs get into enormous debt to buy expensive equipment that they can’t possibly benefit from, on projects which they couldn't care less for, to make money they don’t deserve! And all of this is because they feel self-entitlement to charge for their blurry-backgrounds, and expensive cameras. And what I find amusing is that they cannot take criticism and melt down when one critiques their work or questions the intent of their work. Why? Because they wont admit that it was luck and camera, while planning, talent and skill had nothing to do with it. This is why they keep buying! They are never interested in self improvement, and don't listen to their peers which allot of the times want to help them graduate to a higher level of quality. That dear readers, is the manifestation of the defense mechanism of the human condition when probing its insecurities. Even though they appear confident, the fact is that most of these “pro’s” go home frustrated, hating their work and knowing that they suck! They realize this eventually when looking at a truly great photographer. Some, thankfully get over this heap and become great at what they do by learning the magic rule - the 6 inch rule.
Heck, at first when starting out, its hard not to fall into this trap. And most photographers are either stuck here or have learned to grow up. But unfortunately allot of them keep on furthering their debt with more useless equipment they know nothing about in the hopes of accomplishing professional results with new equipment instead of new skills! And now you know enough about the subject to realize that they couldn't be farther from the truth. It takes years to become a true professional photographer, and it’s evident and clear the line which separates the “boys from the men”.
Making of an amateur
The advancements of technology have allowed many camera manufactures to create incredibly fast and powerful cameras in mind boggling sizes! In fact some of these cameras were physically impossible only 5 years ago! With any advancement there are also costs, mainly to society and in this case, sadly the pollution of a field. You’ll see what I mean in a sec.
Every soccer mom (used as an example, so calm down) that bought a “nice camera” from Best Buy for shooting their kid’s sports events sooner or later comes to think that shes a real life photographer (think Pinocchio)! With her cool new camera, she purchases a 50mm fast lens, because it’s what the Best Buy sales guy recommended saying“…that lens is like the human eye”. Then she soon discovers depth of field, or the blurring of backgrounds and the race is on! The reality is that so far, this is OK! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this up until now, but it gets worse.
Not much time passes and mommy thinks that she can shoot cool pictures with a “blurry background”, and in the excitement she thinks to herself, "why not make some money doing it! After all, you can’t get a blurry background with an iPhone" so she MUST be a pro, right? She goes and builds a crappy website with every picture she’s ever taken to flood the site with content for the sake of having it populated so that people can see her “work”. There’s no rhyme or reason, there is no theme or clarity to the content. At this point it’s just a pile of crap, that non-the-less she is very proud of.
At this point, mommy doesn't ever question her knowledge, compilation or ability and thinks “jee, this is easy”! She even gets a bunch of “likes” on Facebook and she feels good about her photographs. So good does she feel about herself that when an uninformed client contacts her through a friend, she now charges a professional’s rate for her “work” – after all, she can do “blurry backgrounds”!
This is the point where I’m going to stop, and make you realize the rhyme and reason behind my rant. I am not a sexist, nor do I dislike soccer moms. I used this example because it’s a consistent and REAL stereotype which I find to be a very accurate foundation for my argument – this actually happens people! That soccer mom doesn't have to be a mom at all, she doesn't even have to be a she, in fact most of the time it’s a he, I just like how “soccer-mom” flows in this article and it makes my point.
Because you know where the story begins, I’m sure you’re wondering where it ends. After all, dear author, you stopped right in the middle and went no further. Stick around, and let’s go into the dirty details. But before we get to that, let me make something very clear. Allot of beginner photographers would have this story apply directly to them, and in part, this is the reason I write this post. I do realize that allot of them move on, they learn and some even become legends in the field. However the demographic I am labeling as amateurs in this article are specifically the willingly ignorant types that take advantage of the uneducated public and don't actually ever learn the 6-inch-rule, or any other rule for that matter. These are the soccer moms that are ruining the industry for professionals such as myself and dear friends of mine. We are left having to explain the difference between the opportunists and the professionals to the clients, and sometimes the truth makes us look arrogant or cocky. So lets be sure we all understand who the amateurs are in this article, and what the real difference is.
How do I distinguish between soccer mom and professional?
The following information describes the most definitive difference between an amateur and a professional.
- Has consistent work which is organized and easy to understand.
- Has the ability to describe their photographs in detail, and how they worked to get that look. Usually they have a story behind every photograph.
- The focal point and emotional impact of their photograph is immediately clear, it’s consuming and draws you in to the point where you can’t look away – and you don’t know why!
- Every photograph has “their signature”; you can tell who took it by simply studying its elements briefly. Usually I can tell who took my favorite photographs by simply observing the style of the photographer in the photograph.
- Professionals are dedicated to their craft. They live and breathe photography and are consumed by its illusiveness. This is what they do!
- Does not have consistency in their work, they shoot “everything”!
- Most of their keeper shots are 1 of 500 that just happened to be taken accidentally. There’s no story, just motor drive.
- Their photographs have no focal point, usually consisting of several distracting elements that immediately take away from what they though the subject was, and usually one doesn’t stop for more than a second on their photograph – they keep scrolling.
- Amateurs have no signature; they never learned what they want, what they see and how to capture it. Their work is a confusing collage as random as any google image search, collected together – there is no identifying factor to their work.
- Amateurs are usually jacks of all trades – masters of none. They do everything but nothing!
With this information you are now a bit more informed of the plague in our industry. Although there is far more information that needs to be discussed, which I hope to cover in subsequent articles, you now know what to look for. With a bit of intuition, some education and the information in this article you will be able to distinguish between a true professional and a real-life amateur. Be wise whom you hire, because pictures can last forever!
Until next time,