The Business of Photography

Wedding Photography

For most people, photography would not be considered a business except when they need to have portraits done or hiring a wedding photographer, then it is just a necessary evil. Photography is an activity taken on by parents or grand parents snapping pictures of “special” occasions and usually cutting off the top of uncle Ralph’s head or having another member of the family cut off on the left side of the shot. I can remember my mother getting her photographs back from the drug store and seeing just those types of shots. In fact, I can go through all of the pictures that I have from my childhood and point out not only the people in them but who the culprit was that shot them. My Grandfather was an amateur photographer and he new all the tricks like composition and lighting and you could guarantee that aunt Gert wouldn’t have a tree branch growing out of her head.

Photography is one of those activities that falls into more than one category at any one time. From it’s initial inception, it has been hard to quantify. The “Camera Obscura” or Darkened Chamber””, has been around for centuries and can be traced back to Ancient Greece, Rome and even China. Used by French and Italian painters of the Renaissance to quickly sketch out a painting and achieving a correct perspective. It was basically just a parlor trick until British inventor, William Henry Fox Talbot began playing with ways to “capture” the image. At the same time in France, Joseph Nicephore Niepce was working on a different process but to the same end. Because of his partnership with Louis Daguerre the process would become known as the Daguerreotype. When both of these process became public a whole new industry was born. Over night “Professional” photographers began setting up shop. At this point, photography as a hobby was only for the very rich. It wasn’t until George Eastman developed the Kodak camera for the masses that photography became an “Every Man” activity.

“I’m a Photographer”

Photography is the only “profession” I know of where anyone can buy a camera and instantly become a “Photographer”. I couldn’t buy a concert grand piano and instantly become a concert pianist. Or, just buy getting my hands on a scalpel, become a brain surgeon. I could go on listing a whole slew of “professions” but that would get to be a little tiring, you get my point, I hope.

A few cameras

The mere act of owning a camera does not make one a photographer, just an owner of a camera. Some people spend years going to school to be a “photographer” and even after all the time and money spent, are no farther along than when they first started. I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination but I have been doing this a long time and I have seen thousands of photos in different formats from contact sheets to digital images and I know what it takes to “make” a great photograph, not that I always do either. Some times it takes me a couple hundred shots to make one good photograph and that is after hours even days of shooting. Ask any real Pro photographer and they will tell you the same thing.

“Behind the Lines”

In these times of people losing jobs and the unemployment rate rising I am seeing more and more people grabbing that camera they bought for vacation shots and going out trying to make a living as a photographer. I applaud their gumption but even in the best of times photography is a cut throat business. With the advent of Social Media such as Facebook, Twitter, Flicker and the myriad of those being added each day along with every phone having a camera it is getting harder for photographers to get the notice they deserve because of the glut of images out there. There is a difference between a pro photographer who has been honing their craft over many years and someone who just happens to have access to a camera. You can tell the difference in the way that the picture has been crafter or the subject has been posed and it comes across in that photo album that the bride has on her coffee table. The term “Caveat Emptor”, “Let the buyer beware” is appropriate when it comes time to hire a photographer to shoot your wedding or portraits of your family.



Why Film?

Why film? I think the better question should be “why not film?”. I get a lot of people coming up to me and asking about the equipment that I am using while I am out and shooting with one of my many film cameras and almost always the question “can you still get film?” is asked. No, I just like walking around pretending to shoot with an empty camera. I don’t say that but I am thinking it. I find that people are interested in film and becoming bored with digital because they see it constantly. For the older people, it reminds them of better times and younger folk think of it as something different. Look at the Holga cameras and how well they are selling, I know a store here that can’t keep them on the shelves.

Silky O’Sullivans on Beale St.
Nikon F4 80-200 f/4 Kodak BW400CN

This is one of my favorite shots taken with a Nikon F4 camera and a 80-200 f/4 Nikkor lens down on Beale St. here in Memphis on one of my forays with a film camera. I had this one  printed large 24″x36″ and it hangs in my house as a reminder of why I like film. I also donated a copy to the “Make-A-Wish” Foundation fund raiser auction and not to blow my own horn, It was the highest selling item of the entire event. Film has a mystique to it. There is an intangible quality that is hard to describe but it is there all the same. I have been shooting film for almost 30 years and I still enjoy seeing my prints for the first time after I have developed them. Even if I just take a roll or three and have them developed, the anticipation is almost palpable. Digital is kind of, meh. Don’t get me wrong, I think that they both have their place and I use a digital camera quite often, but it is just recently that I have been doing so.

Street shot
Nikon F4 80-200f/4 lens
Kodak BW400CN

There is a certain amount of knowledge that one must have when shooting film because you don’t have the immediate feedback that digital gives you. Knowing how to meter and read light is a must as well as knowing the type of film being used. A digital camera lets you shoot a scene and “chimp” to see if you captured it correctly and if not you can shoot it again but with film that luxury is not available. In one of my earlier blogs I wrote about the “Best camera, EVER”, the little Argus C3 and how it changed photography for the masses. I have several of these in-expensive cameras and I love to take them out and put a roll of film through them just for fun. “That’s the camera Colin Creevy has” was screamed at me by a very rambunctious girl about 10 or 12 as she dragged her father towards me while I was out shooting. The poor father couldn’t figure out if he was intrigued, perplexed or irritated as he examined his daughter and then the camera and back at his daughter. He was very interested in the camera and began to ask questions as we struck up a conversation between his daughters squeals of delight. “Can you still get film?” eventually emerged from his mouth, but only after he had asked some rather intelligent questions first.

Street Photography

Those types of reactions are reserved for my film cameras as most people tend to ignore my digital unless they want to see the picture I just took. Film has an allure. I can generally tell by looking at a print if it is a digital capture or film. Maybe it is the fact that I have been looking at film prints so long that I can judge by the grain or texture maybe even the rendering of the highlights and shadows, but I can. Film cameras and lenses are relatively cheap these days and good quality equipment can be had for next to nothing, I know, because I just bought a Yashica Lynx 5000 with a fixed 4.5cm f/1,8 lens and a dead meter for $10.00. Even with a non-functioning meter the camera still takes some phenomenally sharp pictures on good quality film. So, if you don’t already have a film camera collecting dust somewhere, go out and hit the yard sales and find one for a couple of bucks, put a roll of film in it and start shooting. Even if it has a sticky shutter and light leaks all over, mores the better because it will be challenging and create interesting images just like a Holga but for a lot less money. And if you like it, let me know. Better yet, If you live near Memphis drop me a line and I will lend you a camera and we can go shooting together. Why film? Why not?

Social Networking has made me a better photorapher.

Not, or maybe, it’s hard to say. I seem to be spending more time on the social sites trying to keep up on things than actually shooting. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been productive, it has, but I would rather spend my time shooting.

In the past couple of months since starting on this SMM (Social Media Marketing) kick, I have found a bunch of outstanding photographers that share the same vision and ideas that I have. For years I felt I was alone in what I was doing with my photography. Every once in a while, I would happen upon a photographer in a magazine that was shooting something crazy like “Urban Oasis” and I would be amazed at their take on it. Now, It seems that I am being inundated with photographers doing the same kinds of things that I like.

There is a yin and yang to this tho. On one side is the yin, the negative, that being some of the most awesome work by some very talented photographers. I get ill viewing their work because it is so much better than anything that I have done, so much so that it takes the wind from my sails.

The yang being that I get inspired to do better than I have in the past and I spend more time looking for better photographic opportunities. I feel that my photography has improved but that is a subjective point of view and is left to the viewer to decide if my work has merit.

Social Media may not be making me a better photographer but it has given me the impetus to do better and it is showing me different ways to shot, I just have to pull myself away from the computer and my phone to shot more.