“The whole question of success and failure [in photography] resolves itself into an investigation of the capacities of the machine and well may we be satisfied with the rich gifts it bestows, without straining it into a competition with art. For everything for which art, so-called, has hitherto been the means but not the end, photography is the allotted agent – for all that requires mere manual correctness, and mere manual slavery, without any employment of the artistic feeling, she is the proper and therefore the perfect medium. She is made for the present age in which the desire for art resides in a small minority, but the craving, or rather necessity for cheap, prompt, and correct facts in the public at large. Photography is the purveyor of such knowledge to the world. She is sworn witness of everything presented to her view.” – Anonymous
Sometimes I genuinely think that people assume I make a decent living from being a photographer. I don’t.
There was a time when professional photography was a skill that was only possessed by few and required a lot more thought than just picking up a DSLR, pointing and clicking. I’m not even talking about 20 years ago, when I studied photography 6 years ago I was taught solely on film. And with film, you can’t just review instantly, hit the trash button and try again. As a poor student, after you’d paid for the film (maybe even splashing out on a polaroid!), the developing and then the paper for printing, if you then found your negative was out of focus then you’d just wasted far too much money and countless hours squinting in a dark room. After the first failure, you learn pretty quickly to get it right first time. What percentages of photographers today even own a light meter?
So it seems that the opportunity for photography to be the well paid and respected career that it once was is slowly dwindling. There’s only so much money people are willing to spend and this divided by the exponentially growing number of “professional” photographers proves to be a dire situation for anyone, like me, for whom this is their sole source of income.
Model portfolios, family portraits and now even weddings have been targeted by amateur professionals so that they can earn a little pocket money from their hobby, under charging and pushing out those of us who truly value our craft and aren’t ashamed to price accordingly. Did you know that brides to be are now spending less on wedding photography than they are on their wedding dresses? Sometimes even less that on the flowers! It’s rather upsetting to think about something that has a shelf life of a day taking more of the budget than memories that last a lifetime.
But this was not meant to turn into the “woe is me” entry that it has become but rather a small nod to the area within the industry that seems to still value quality in photography, Commercial Photography.
I’ll admit that I never intended to step into commercial photography, but with my studies, I was taught to turn my hand to photograph anything that came into the viewfinder. In this case it’s chairs. The one thing that I have found about commercial photography which makes it this hidden jewel in the photography industry is the client’s expectations. Commercial clients don’t pussy foot around, if they don’t like what you’ve done or your work is shoddy then they’re going to tell you with both barrels. For them, this isn’t just about spending some of their disposable income, it’s about their product or service being shown to its full potential as these images could and often do dictate their sales. In a retail market based on visual imagery, the quality of the photograph is taken in at a subconscious level and I think that sometimes we don’t acknowledge product photography as actual photography. We don’t think that the same care for focus and attention to exposure is taken over something as simple as a food mixer as for a bridal portrait. That’s what makes product and commercial photography such an important but undervalued sector; we are constantly exposed to it but never consciously appreciative of it. Huge companies spend millions researching how these images affect our subconscious mind and what it is about the content that makes us reach for our hard earned cash.
A photographer that I assist regularly shoots for a worldwide lingerie company. Within the parameters of his brief are the stipulations set out by the company in order to maximise sales. For example, for North America, the model must not wear red shoes or lipstick, for Japan, he can’t use a blonde model, the list goes on. Did you ever think that so much thought went into an image that might only ever be printed 3×3” in a trade catalogue?
So, I’ll work away quietly on my own in my studio, photographing chairs and jewellery. No models, make-up artists or fancy lighting just my mp3 player for company. Knowing that, even though I may be driven mad by photographing the same thing in a different colour way, there is still a place in this industry for professional photographers to be valued.