Photographers – Keeping it honest

Most people don’t come here looking for comment on the photographic industry at large but I care greatly about the professionalism of photography and felt the need to write this. That’s partly due to the fact that I know quite a few new photographers read the blog and if experience is any help then here is my take –

Late last week, over the weekend and still going strong this week the twitter-sphere, Facebook and photography forums lit up in response to one US “photographer” offering new photographers something he termed “The Photo System” (I feel irresponsible merely mentioning it).

I’ve essentially ascribed to the belief of caveat emptor (buyer beware) throughout the years. I’ve learnt my own lessons by inadvisably buying stuff, especially in an industry that attracts more than its fair share of useless products, but its time to speak up so that potential purchasers are pre-warned.

My own thoughts are echoed in a thousand posts that have been and will be posted about this one product but I’ll take the opportunity to go further.

We live in a time where being a photographer has become an attraction in its own right. It’s great to see so many people get so much enjoyment out of their hobby. And that’s not to belittle anyone because I started in photography as a hobbyist too.

And now, for their own innumerable reasons, I’ve watched the industry become flooded with people rushing to join the photographic profession. That’s great because it is a great PROFESSION.

Many become photographers doing so on the back of the promise of what the industry can do for their lifestyle – joining a like-minded band of merry photographers sipping lattes in fashionable suburbs, traveling the world photographing society weddings, spending 4-12 hours photographing a wedding or two per week, taking 50 minutes or less post processing the wedding, blogging it, watching “likes” pile up at their brilliant and incisive shots and then having the publishing world and new clients demanding more of their work.

It’s like that for, oh I don’t know, perhaps one or two hundred photographers in the world and they’re exceptionally good at what they do and at business and marketing. They ALSO work incredibly hard at their skills.

For the rest it’s just anything from hard work to exceptionally hard work often without the fun, the travel and the acknowledgement to a greater or lesser degree.

“The Photo System” offers, especially new photographers, the “opportunity” to learn the techniques to succeed at photography. Unfortunately much of it is wrong in every way that matters. Photography is seen as an easy-to-enter job because of low start up costs, no requirement to comply within an industry or professional aspect and because it’s heavily advertised as being so simple.

It’s not.

The Photo System has been heavily panned for, amongst lots of bad advice, one specific photographic approach of “spray and pray”. This is said to up-and-coming wedding photographers! Shoot on “P” mode, shoot early and shoot often and you’ll probably get a good shot.

No, no, no, no, no.

I’ve never seen any professional ever say or think that for the very good reason that it doesn’t work.

Patience, observation, prediction based on experience, calmness, technique. Oh wait. That takes time doesn’t it!

A professional is a professional because of that (unwritten rule) 10,000 hour pursuit of excellence and not because they signed up to a one or two day course, workshop or online tutorial (often run by one or two year experienced photographers too) and paid $50, $500 or $5000, or because they happen to have regular online chats with the poorly named “rockstars” of the industry, or because they’ve bought innumerable actions and photoshop templates, or because they partied with the names at WPPI, or because they have a mac, or because they’ve found the prettiest way to wrap up their images for their clients.

These things can help of course yet ultimately professional photography is the pursuit of the art, craft and business skills conducted within the parameters of ethical professionalism.

No shortcut exists at all and many of us who have been in the industry for a longer time (10-70 years) would expect that there never will be a shortcut.

A few people questioning the ethics of The Photo System have pondered that it helps the sellers of “information” (loose term) to have an enormous bunch of new photographers entering the industry every year. Yes, it does. And as a profession we’ve often sat back and let things happen unconscionably but this is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I believe we’re entering a time where my profession wants to clean the industry up and rid itself of the charlatans. I’m pleased at that and the fact that names I really respect within the industry have spoken out too.

Clear out those who seek to take advantage of photographers. Send a strong message that over-priced workshops and marketing gimmicks are not necessarily to the benefit of new photographers.

Welcome to the industry new photographers and caveat emptor. Beware of what you are buying into when you join the industry. There are leeches within this fine industry who want to make money out of cannibalising it. They are preying upon new or naive photographers.
Don’t become a victim. Don’t lose money. Don’t waste your time on fast tracking success when it never existed in the first place.

Ask for advice from those who have lived it, breathed it and love it. That advice will freely and gladly be given because our clients deserve the absolute best for the most special occasions in their lives.

Your mistake might be a learning experience but for a client it’s a never-to-be-repeated opportunity lost.

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