In today's world, where anyone with a DSLR can take fairly passable images on "Auto", "photographers" are cropping up all over the place. I understand the lure. Snap a few photos, burn them to a disc, and walk away with a pocketful of cash. Easy, right?
So many "photographers" hang out their shingle WAY before they are ready to compete in this market. And I definitely put myself in this category. After my first term in photography college, I was out there doing family and children's session for $70-90 including disc. Ugh. Just admitting it makes me cringe, shudder, self-flagellate and laugh at the same time. I figured "Hey, while I am getting my formal education, I might as well do my "on-the-fly" learning at the same time, AND make some money!" Stupid, I know.
Now that I have nearly completed my photography program (three long years later), I can look back with that 20/20 vision of hindsight and see my mistakes. I should have waited until my skills and knowledge were up to snuff. I should have waited until I was ready to dedicate a significant amount of time and resources to promoting and sustaining a business, not an under-the-table side enterprise. I should have learned to use Photoshop/Lightroom (which I did learn fairly early on, but still, some of the first edits - yikes!). I should have had enough respect for the photographers that I admired, appreciated and blog-stalked to wait until I could set my prices appropriately without undercutting. All these things I should have done, but didn't.
And now, from the viewpoint of a professional photographer, I think I see one of the reasons why this has become the trend. Photography has lost its exclusivity. For better and for worse. It used to be that photography was a skilled artistic profession, or a really expensive hobby. There was nothing in the middle. But as the price of equipment dropped and the digital age of take-and-erase came upon us, the gap began to fill. Photoshop and other digital editing software made it possible to "fix"images and thus it was perceived that less skill was required to do the same work. Wrong. It still takes a level of skill and knowledge to be a photographer that can take years to refine. You still have an eye for subject and composition. And you definitely cannot put it on "Auto" and hope for the best (despite what your mother tells you.) However, with the wider availability of prosumer equipment and more flexibility with digital technology, it has also opened the door to a whole host of new talent who may have been overwhelmed by the challenge of film photography and would have never taken up the camera. And we would be missing out on some incredible talent. You win some, you lose some.
I say this not to offend any up-and-coming photographers, nor to judge anyone else's practices or work. I just know that I made some mistakes when I was starting out that I wish I hadn't and if I can help another photographer avoid these pitfalls, or give a client the information to make a wiser decision when they are choosing a photographer, then I have met my goal. Education and information are powerful tools, make sure to use them when choosing a photographer to capture your memories.
And now, because no rant, errr....post, is complete without images, I have some before and afters to help illustrate some of the things you should try to notice when browsing portfolios looking for a photographer. There are some doozies...laugh along with me, people! I used the same subject in each before and after to keep the images as comparable as possible. And as a disclaimer, I am not saying that my images are THE BEST, but I hope you will see that I have definitely improved! Consider this an official MBP public service advertisement. :)
Okay, let's talk about subject. The subject should be obvious in the photo, and the viewer's eye should be led to the subject by proper placement in the frame and the lack of distracting background/scenic elements. In the top image, I did a poor job of keeping the viewer's eye on the subject, since the dark lines in the background compete for attention. In bottom image, I fixed this by filling the frame, allowing the viewer to truly focus on the subject without and distracting background. A simple fix but an effective one.
Next, let's look at light. In the image on the left, the light was coming from the top and side, creating dark shadows in the eye sockets and a big contrast between dark and light on each side of the face. The subject's eyes (which are a stunning ice blue) can't really be seen. I should have had the subject either facing the light or with his back to the light to minimize the harsh shadows. Plus, the image is a bit overexposed. In the image on the right, I used back lighting to give the subject definition from the background and exposed properly for his face to ensure that I could see those dazzling eyes. I also used the truck to frame the subject to have more visual impact.
In the next example, I want you to notice colour. The top image has a very strong red-orange tint. This could be due to poor White Balance (every type of light has a colour temperature that is not perceived with the naked eye, but is captured by the camera's sensor), or the colour of the leaves around this scene may have caused a colour cast. It is particularly noticeable on the skin. Either way, it could have been fixed in post-processing. In the bottom image, after carefully selecting the proper white balance in-camera and with a little bump in post to warm it up, the skin tone is natural and even.
Okay, moving on to composition. In the image on the left, the subject is slightly too far right in the frame, and his foot is cut off at the bottom, losing the feeling of the subject being grounded. Whenever possible, the photographer should try not to cut off limbs. If limbs are outside of the frame (for stronger composition), they should not be cropped at a joint. In the image on the left, the subject is well-balanced in the frame and the feet are in the shot, showing the viewer that he is grounded and whole!
The rule of thirds. This is one of the most simple yet dynamic "rules" that photographers use to make their images look more polished and professional. It basically means that the image is divided into three vertical and three horizontal sections, like a grid, and the most interesting placement for a subject on this grid is along the top or bottom line, or where the lines intersect. If I knew how to put a grid on this image I would have! ;) In the top image, the subject is in the centre of the frame, and though her eyes are in the top half of the image, the centering offsets this placement, all making for a boring image. Plus the processing sucks! LOL In the bottom image, the subject is slightly off centre and her eyes are near where the lines would intersect, making it a more appealing image overall.
Expressions matter. In the top image, the subject looks like he turned around and was caught unaware. In the bottom image, I simply waited until he was relaxed and playful, to capture a more natural expression. Patience is ALWAYS key to capturing your subject at his or her most natural. And whoo, what is with the weird fluorescent yellow undertones on that before shot? LOL
So there are a few examples of how I screwed up, and most of the "before" images are from when I was charging for my services. Clearly, I should not have been taking people's money back then, but I was truly ignorant of how detrimental my actions were, not only to me, but to the entire profession of which I was striving to become a part. I have had to grow from each failure, misstep and missed opportunity. However, all of those mistakes led me to my present standing, and I can proudly say that I am now running a totally legitimate part-time business while continuing to grow and learn at every opportunity.
Now go and have a good laugh at my before pictures...that's what I am going to do!