Technology is great in the right hands. Today’s modern cameras are absolutely technical marvels. Technology has opened up so many doors that just a few years ago was impossible. But there is also a major downside to technology. Cameras are so good, that almost everyone that buys a digital camera hangs out their professional shingle.
As a photographer for over 40 years, I’ve taken pride in developing skills to better myself as a photographer. In the film era, I learned how to process my images in a dark room. When the digital age arrived, I took the time to learn post-processing using Photoshop and other image editors. I believe that you are to capture the best image you possibly can in-camera. However, you’re not done. All images need some post-processing to really give them a finished look. This goes for hobbyists and professionals alike.
For years now, I have seen too many people who just got a DSLR or mirrorless camera just a few days, weeks, or maybe a month earlier hang out their “Professional Photography” shingle. They have absolutely no experience in photography and know very little about art. They then advertise their professional business as natural photography. Like most photographers, they target the wedding and portrait markets. What sets them apart from other wedding/portrait photographers? Their “Natural Images.” They capture you naturally and do no post-editing, retouching, etc. My question is why would anyone hire you? You’re offering nothing that they can’t do themselves. Anyone with a cell phone can do that themselves and save money.
Once professional photographers were considered wizards when someone wanted a professional portrait. The technology wasn’t around so anyone could create an acceptable image with the click of a button. Even those who barely dabbled with photography in the film era at the very least had to have much more knowledge just to have an image to view. In the film era, you shot a roll of film, then took it to a lab and waited a week just to find out only a couple of images came out. They may have been too under/overexposed, out of focus, blurry, etc. Not to mention that you were limited to the number of exposures on a roll of film. Most people in those years quickly became frustrated and gave up photography.
Sure there were the Instamatic cameras like Polaroid. With those cameras, you take a picture and within a couple of minutes you can see your image. But, I don’t recall everyone with an Instamatic camera hanging out the professional shingle as they do in the modern digital age. I worked in a professional studio in the ’80s and we used an Instamatic film on a medium format camera. We used that film to check out lighting, exposure, composition, etc. before using regular film. Looking back, it was our way of “chimping” before investing time, labor, and money to create the final image.
Here’s my beef with almost everyone getting a digital camera and hanging out their shingle. The fact is the majority of you don’t know $hit about photography. You barely know your camera. You know enough to put everything in auto mode with autofocus and you’re only pushing a button. The reality is you’ve done nothing, technology has done everything for you. Without that technology, you probably would not have an image at all. Please, don’t get me wrong, I’m not belittling or running you down because of your lack of photography knowledge. The fact is that every photographer starts out knowing almost nothing and has much to learn. My beef is you’re not ready to be a “Professional.” There’s a lot of work you need to do and much to learn. In an already over-saturated field, it’s become very hard and frustrating for clients to sort through the hundreds of thousands of photographers who are capable of providing true professional photography and services.
Let me ask those that I’m addressing here a few questions. Would you go to a surgeon who has no experience and just bought a shiny new scalpel last week? Would you go to get your hair cut by a professional who just got their first pair of clippers and only cut one person’s hair? Would you take your car to a mechanic that has no experience? Would you hire a plumber who just bought their first pipe wrench and hung out a professional shingle? Would you hire a lawyer who has not taken the bar or worked a case? I most certainly feel that you have answered “NO” to all these questions. But then again these questions are unrealistic. For many professions, they spend years receiving an education, working in an apprenticeship, and have to be tested to prove they can perform to a certain level to be licensed. Many professions require a license, certification, or some level to prove competence. Not so with photography, anyone can hang out their shingle.
If you love photography, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a professional photographer. However, before you hang out your shingle, please invest in yourself to learn as much as possible about photography. Learn how to actually use your camera and gear. Learn how to do post-processing of your images. Study other people’s work, especially work that you really like. Learn to see light, pose people, composition, and so much more. Most importantly practice, practice, and practice some more.
There is so much more to being a Professional and running a business than taking pictures. As a professional, I can tell you I take fewer pictures than I did as a hobbyist. Only a small portion of my professional photography has been doing sessions. So don’t hang out your Professional shingle if you only want to take pictures and get paid for it. As with many things in life, you need to ask yourself, “Just because I can, should I?”