I was having a conversation with a friend the other day and he made an interesting comment. We were talking about the business of photography (he's not a photographer or involved in the industry at all) and he made the remark that it must be hard to sell services as a professional when cameras are so good these days that anybody can take a fantastic photo. Ouch.
But you know what? Cameras are really good these
days. Fast autofocus, brilliant exposure metering and even the ability
to change things up in post-processing afterwards if you want. So what
is it exactly that a professional does differently if the taking of the
photograph is so easy?
Firstly there's the illusion
that it is easy. In the right light, if you're in the right position and
there's a nice moment in front of you then everyone's chances of
getting a nice picture are pretty even. No questions about it. If we're
both standing in front of Uluru (Ayers Rock) during a beautiful sunset
we're going to come away with something pretty special.
what happens for the 99% of the time when the conditions aren't
co-operating? What happens when you have to shoot a portrait of somebody
outside in the middle of the day? The professional will know to put up a
scrim to soften the light. They'll know to break out the lighting to
fill in the shadows, and the optimum position to put that light for the
nicest effect. They'll also know what to do to the background exposure
to create a spectacular effect. And they'll know how to do it every time
no matter what the weather is doing. Oh and they'll also know to get on
fabulously no matter how much of a bad mood the portrait subject is in
and to get legally binding model releases signed so you don't find
yourself getting sued down the track!
OK so maybe a
deep knowledge of lighting is something that can help separate a pro,
but what about those who only use natural light. Let's take a travel
assignment. The professional will, before they even leave, have
ascertained what direction things are facing. Why? Because if you need
to use natural light, and we know that sunrise and sunset are the best
times of the day, then you want to know what you need to photograph at
what time of the day. East facing buildings are a morning shot, west
facing buildings are an evening shot. But the professional will also be
on Google Earth checking out if there are any impediments to the sun
meaning you need to be there later or earlier than usual. For example
here in Cairns the sun goes down behind the mountains at about 5pm. No
point finding out that the sun sets at 6.30pm only to find out that
everything has been in shadow for the past hour and a half. Research is a
huge part of what a professional photographer does.
professional also knows why they're photographing what they are - the
significance of an event, action or object. Take a couple of
photographers at the Sumo. One has never been before and just snaps away
willy nilly, getting some great action shots. The professional who has
done his research is concentrating on the details everybody else misses.
The ceremony of purification as the wrestlers throw salt into the ring.
The wince of pain as the grand champion bends down on the knee he hurt
in training the previous week. Background knowledge is as much, if not
more, important as the images themselves. If you know the significance
of certain things the photos themselves have more meaning.
same goes for portraits. I did a series of portraits for James Cook
University where we photographed people in various fields of study
including Conflict Resolution, Terrorism, Turtle Rehabilitation and Pub
Management! Try illustrating some of those in a single image.
the Terrorism shoot for instance. I had an idea for a dark, brooding
portrait. I had to make sure that the image didn't allude to any
particular nationality or religious inclination and I didn't want it to
be bright and airy. So we chose to photograph her in her office - at
least that was how she described where she worked. Turns out it was a
50cm by 50cm boring grey cubicle in the corner of a tiny room filled
with other boring grey cubicles! A visual nightmare. This is when the
professional's experience comes into play. When knowledge of your
equipment is good enough to be able to cope with any difficulty thrown
at you. People with less experience might just throw their hands up in
And the other differentiating factors come
after the shoot is finished. Can the amateur be trusted to have triple
copies and back ups of everything they shoot in case of hard drive
failure? Can they provide low res jpegs for selection purposes on a
password-protected website (so your competitors can't accidentally see
them)? Will they invoice on time and in the format that Accounts Payable
needs to process it promptyly, or will it require a telephone call or
two to sort things out?
So yes, whilst I agree that the
advancement of technology has made taking good pictures a lot easier -
particularly in the perfect situation - I think when using a
professional photographer is absolutely vital is the other 99% of the
time. In other words when the shit is hitting the fan and you need
someone with the experience to get through with a smile, a laugh and
great images no matter what the world throws at you. That's what a
professional photographer does.
Oh, the image above was
taken on the Japanese island of Okinawa. A tropical paradise famous for
its world class beaches, beautiful aqua skies and water sports. Only
the week I was there it rained the whole time and the sun never came out
once! No point telling your editor the weather is terrible. You need to
change tack and find a different angle to your coverage. Anything less
would be totally unprofessional.