Tuesday, January 31, 2012

When is a Photographer considered a "Professional" Photographer?

On a past "day job" nearly nine years ago a familiar customer approached and asked me without context if I knew anyone who could do photography. Before I even had a chance to reply she went on as to the reason for her inquiry which happened to be to photograph the interior of her newly constructed alleged "mansion" of a home. Five minutes later I simply said that I understood what she was looking for. Mind you I'm on the "day job" and not in the habit of even bringing up that I too had fairly strong photographic experience and knew what she needed. I don't solicit work on someone else's dime, not even as a volunteer; never have and never will. I didn't want to invite the request or go there. But as if she read my mind, she asked point blank "are you a photographer?" She already knew that I have a design background. Of course I answered honestly (another policy of mine) and said yes. Then she followed with "but are you a professional photographer?"

Given that I knew her fairly well and being within the context of her inquiry her question was not if I am a professional photographer but more accurately are my pictures of such a quality that I would be considered a professional by a peer or maybe just another average everyday person. It set me to thinking in what we be a lifelong quest to answer that question. I've even researched the question without end for my own curiosity as to what the photographic industry and it's forerunners considered a Pro. Guess what, after almost ten years it still isn't clear.

By some definitions it is a person who supports themselves financially practicing photography exclusively. Other definitions say that at least half of your income has to come from photography. Some even say that you need to be published and recognized in a prominent industry publication. The aforementioned customer could have cared less about how I feed myself. Her inquiry clearly leaned toward quality and not quantity or the source of my income.

Since that time I've done photography full time, part time, occasionally not at all and often just because I love it as a hobby. Does that mean I was a professional by definition and then I wasn't and then I am again? Does that mean that a high school history teacher who is also a weekend photographer that sells thousands of dollars of landscape prints from a self-published website isn't a professional photographer; yet, the bulk of his/her income still comes from teaching? What about someone that has a degree in photography? Are they instantly a professional?

Living at a time when everyone with a digital camera and off-the-shelf editing software thinks they're a photographer doesn't help either. In the last decade there have been more photographers (or people claiming to be) than ever. Even people that have spent twenty or thirty years running a photography business have found their business encroached upon by newcomers which they say have at best novice skills. Newcomers are telling everyone they're a professional photographer without an inkling of an idea about what that implies - without any appreciation of design principles like composition line and form - without any regard to shape and light beyond the technical definitions. But does that mean they're not professionals? They may or not be.

Strap a lens onto your new digital SLR, luckily capture a stunning award-winning landscape shot on auto-settings, get the shot published in a national magazine and suddenly you're a professional? True? It depends on your definition of "Professional Photography." The label is in broad use and expanding exponentially and in my opinion creates a false perception in consumers' minds as to the quality of work. I say drop it altogether, lose the stigma it has wrought and let the images say the thousand words they were meant to say.

I wouldn't say that I'm a professional photographer and some people by definition would probably agree. But nor would I say that I am not. It's a rapidly changing and evolving field and I am changing and evolving with it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"All great pictures" working with a new model

2011 was a tumultuous year to say the least; ups and downs and everything in between. Yet, I was able to work with some fantastic people and that within itself saved what may have been a year long catastrophe.

It isn't anything you haven't heard of before; economic uncertainty which leaves you paralyzed on what to do with your business. Should you expand, shrink back, close it altogether, or keep pushing by not giving in to the panic? Well many of us do not have the luxury of giving up so we move on. In doing so, I've found that it certainly forces your creativity to its fullest. You think of lighting scenarios and set design tricks you may have never tried resulting in beautiful work. Such is strife I suppose - forcing you to fail or push beyond your comfort zones into new territory. Decisions have to be made and in doing so you have to learn to live with them. However, when possible I aim for the latter. Consequently, I was able to stumble upon working with a well known friend with incredible untapped beauty.

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Don't get me wrong... I've always known she was beautiful. I also knew she had the tools to model upon first meeting her many many years ago. In fact, she's breathtaking and always was; at least since I've known her. Even so, it was more fun than I ever imagined. Most people (even those you know) fret a bit upon the onset of any serious modeling but I had no idea photographic chemistry would come so easy.

This is what you want as a photographer. Even working amid amateur models or models of very little experience you want ease. You want a relaxed fun atmosphere resulting in great creative chemistry between you and your subject(s).

In my opinion it all stems from trust. Trust that you're gonna make the pictures tasteful, trust that your creative autonomy will result in beautiful imagery and trust that you have his/her best creative interests in mind. Your integrity as an artist will come thru in that belief and I believe that models and photographers (depending on your role) can sense that sincerity.

Many start out nervous. Acknowledge it and reinforce the positive aspects of what you're doing. Share, communicate and never ever force the process. With this model I didn't even know how much time had elapsed. It was fluid, fun and unassuming. There were no weird moments, no awkward silences nor any wardrobe malfunctions. It was just plain fun and we both carried an unswerving belief that whatever pictures we get are all great pictures.