A Photographer’s Value

Being a photographer during this day and age has become quite the struggle. We currently live in a time where we are overwhelmed with pictures and have the constant need to share our lives with everyone around us. We have a huge need to document every single thing so that we can keep it forever. People have come to understand that photography is something that is easy. All you need to do is “click” and it’s done (which may even start from George Eastman’s slogan of “You push the button, we do the rest” with the Brownie Cameras from Kodak).

Now I’m going to go on two points here that really need to be made known because they are the most common things that professional photographers have to hear and deal with. Forgive me if I get on a rant here but I’m very passionate about these topics.

  1. The Photographer is what makes an image great, NOT the camera.

People have this idea that the reason why an image is so good is because of a professional grade camera. Some of them may even go out and buy this professional camera because they want their pictures to look great but you know what they end up with? A super fancy camera with controls that they have no idea how it works and pictures that still look mediocre.

Why do they end up with pictures like this? Well as they find out, they don’t know how to actually use the camera for all it’s worth. They assume all the need is that nice camera, to click the button and that the camera does the rest! But it’s not like that at all.

A real photographer can work with ANY camera and still make good work because it’s the training behind it. We know how to create good compositions, how to expose and work with light correctly, how to change depth of field to help with the focus or feeling of the image, and probably the best of all, how to edit it so it can reach it’s full potential as an image.

So here’s some real talk. When you tell a photographer that “Wow, this picture is really great! Your camera must be really good!”. You are devaluing them. Imagine for a minute that you invite some friends over for a fancy dinner and when you ask “How do you like my cooking?” And they reply with, “Wow, your oven makes great food!” How would that make you feel?

Now, you know for yourself that you should receive the credit right? You are the one who collected the ingredients, put them together, added the correct seasoning, and slaved in the kitchen for HOURS, then put it in the oven. The oven simply heated up the food. YOU did the work. The oven was simply your tool to create an awesome feast. This can honestly be the same for any profession. A doctor or dentist’s tools are no good to us without an educated doctor or dentist knowing how to use them. Accounting software is no use without an accountant. Just because you buy an expensive guitar doesn’t mean you will magically learn how to produce music with a simple strum. The same is with photography. A camera is just a tool, while the photographer uses it to create art. We use it to create memories that you’ll be able to hold on to for the rest of your life and into future generations. So please remember this analogy and I ask that you never say those words to a photographer or artist of the sort.

  1. Why is photography so expensive? Don’t you just click the button and you’re done?

Why is any professional expensive? Why do you want to seek the best lawyer, doctor, dentist, electrician, accountant, chef, etc? I’m sure you don’t actually need me to answer this cause in you’re head you are probably saying, “Because they are trained and I can trust them to get the job done the way it needs to get done” right?

So real talk number two, why is it completely normal to understand this when it comes to these kinds of professionals but when it comes to professional artists whether we are photographers, graphic designers, painters, illustrators, etc. that suddenly we are looked at as if it is a hobby and we shouldn’t be paid or taken seriously? If our jobs were so easy, wouldn’t anyone be able to do it? If it was easy, why don’t you do it yourself? If it was easy, why are you even asking us for help? The answer is easy and it takes us back to a couple paragraphs ago. You don’t know how to use the tools.

You need someone who knows how to use the computer programs, who knows the history of design, who has a sense of that works together and what doesn’t, who is creative enough to create that new website or advertisement of yours. You need someone who knows who to draw and has knowledge of light and color to create the illustrations you need. You want a painter who knows how to blend colors to create the vision you may have to create a community friendly mural or painting for your home. You need someone who knows how to use the camera as a tool to make you look good for your company headshots, or to be able to document a special time in your life with your family.

Bringing it back to only photography: You know you cannot simply do it yourself, and you know that you don’t want to just pick some random stranger off the street and expect to get the quality of an image that you have in mind. You are deep down looking for someone who has the portfolio to show that they are experienced and know what they’re doing. So why treat us different from any other professional you work with? All professions are paid because of value of their knowledge.

As an experienced photographer who also went to school for photography, I know I need to pay attention to light. Photography literally means drawing with light. I know when the best and worst times to shoot are. I know how to use equipment to help light up our subjects in both natural and studio settings.

As professional photographers, we also learn about composition. We learn the differences between various types of compositions, and we can instantly look at our subject and know what we need to do to make them look the best.

We also know how to use our camera. We don’t shoot in automatic mode. We want to have the control of our exposures, focus points, apertures, f-stops, and shutter speeds. We know if and when we need a tripod.

If a photographer primarily works in a studio, they also learn how to use artificial studio lights to work with their subjects. If they are a portrait photographer, they learn how to interact with their sitters to capture the best of their personalities. They get to know them, and make them look their best.

In general, we learn how to use reflectors, off-camera flashes, how to diffuse light, and how to make or use other tools to create the atmosphere we need. We learn the difference between different lighting systems like butterfly lighting vs. Rembrandt lighting. We are keeping all this knowledge in mind every time we click that shutter to take a picture. We are constantly problem solving on the spot to create images. And when the session is over, just like in a darkroom (if you can remember those days), the magic really gets to happen in our digital darkrooms as we work with the images in Photoshop or Lightroom (or maybe even both) to create the final images that you will love.

Sometimes, we get asked to simply “Not do these things” or to “Not do the editing” in hopes that they can get a cheaper price but the fact is, if you aren’t willing to pay for the price of the experience and knowledge, then you might as well find a hobbyist to do it. If your car needs work but you can’t afford it, do you ask a mechanic to skip steps in hopes to save you money? I’d like to think not because your car will still be broken. Even so, the mechanic knows they cannot skip these steps even if they wanted to because everything plays together to get to the final fix.

A professional photographer isn’t going to simply forget what they know about light and the use of their tools to save you money. Those things are ingrained in their practice. Let alone, a photographer isn’t going to give you unedited files since they most likely shoot in RAW, which unless you have professional programs, you won’t be able to open them to view and share anyway. The reason you choose a photographer is because of the images they produce. Unedited images are nothing like the final ones that you see in their portfolio.

Just like any other professional field, some of us go to school to learn the tricks of our trade. And like other fields, we also need to be able to purchase, insure, and keep our tools in tip-top condition so that we can continue to do great work for you. Any business owner knows that in order to make money, you need to charge a specific price to cover all of your business needs to keep you afloat. This is just a small list of some of the basic equipment a photographer needs to have. And this is just the beginning.

A camera body $1500-$2500 each.
Lenses $500-$2000 each (On average, there are lenses that cost up to 12k).
Editing programs $120-$600 a year (depending on which programs are needed)
Camera Maintenance (did you know after so many pictures our camera actually has to go get reset?) $200-$500 each time.
Computer $1300 (Mac products are best for image work)
Website: $120-$400 per year (Don’t forget to add on domain name fees)

It’s also important to remember that we as artists have the same cost of living fees just like you. We also have homes, bills, and families to take care of so we need to make money to take care of those things. Yes, we absolutely LOVE what we do, that’s why we took the time to learn our trade, but it isn’t just a fun hobby. This is our job. We want to serve you in the best way we can.

Phew! Well that was a little long winded. I hope I wasn’t too harsh with my truth talk but I truly hope that this post helped you understand the photography world more along with understand the value that you are investing in them.

When you invest in a great photographer, remember you are paying for their knowledge of photography, their experience, and for the tools that they need to keep their business afloat so they can continue to serve you better and longer. You obviously like them for a reason whether it be their personality or their style. Wouldn’t it be great knowing that you are not only going to receive great images for yourself, but you are also investing in their business so they can do more for you in the future?

I hope this helps you in your future photography decisions. If you have more questions, please comment below so I can answer them for you!

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