I first met Michael when he came to an SCU summer program in Chicago. Since then I've spent time with him at WPPI and ShutterFest. Michael's a perpetual student, doing everything he can to perfect his craft and raise the bar on his shooting skills.
When he first sent this guest post to me, I honestly thought it was too harsh to run, but the more I thought about it the more on point it is. Sadly, the people who need to read this most, don't follow many blogs, let alone spend time thinking about how to raise the bar on their skill set.
Being passionate about photography isn't enough by itself. You've got to be willing to invest the time in your education. That doesn't mean there won't be times when you might be in over your head on a particular assignment, but if you've worked hard to build a good network, then you should have access to a wide variety of resources so your clients are never at risk of mediocrity!
Looking to check out Mike's work and see if he can walk the talk? Check out his site and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
The photographer I selected did not have any posts on his blog where he discusses which coffee he had that morning or a recap of running around after his kids that day. He did not have an excess of images on his site nor did he have too many galleries. The two wedding and portrait galleries he did have, kept me on his site for much longer than other sites featuring half a dozen or more galleries.
He didn’t have a page loaded with his awards and there was no annoying music with a nearly invisible ‘stop’ button. In fact, pretty much the only thing his site had was unique, interesting and consistent images. The images were real clients and real shoots. This was all my fiancé Ruth and I needed to book him as our photographer.
It was this one experience of becoming a client myself that I realized some of the key challenges in the photo industry...
From the dozens of sites I visited in my search, I could see photographers who put together a price list from that of another professional photographer. There was no shortage of gorgeous images from different studios that looked the same or similar, which often turned out to be from a workshop. Subjects in one photographer’s portfolio would magically appear in someone else’s.
Clear as day was the difference in the images which the photographer did on their own versus images which were obviously done either in some sort of workshop or guided by someone else. I would see a capture of a stunning bride and groom bursting out of a scene with a magical and perfect level of editing, then quickly followed by a poorly composed photo of a wedding cake which looked like drunk Uncle Harry might have captured. No consistency, skill or hint of artistic ability whatsoever in portfolio after portfolio.
This was my first glimpse of how we, the portrait and wedding photographers appear to the outside world and it was somewhat of a sad sight. Some portfolios were so awful they provided a comic relief for us as we would literally sit and laugh with actual tears in our eyes as to how it would ever end up online in the first place! Oh look, the veil is magically floating (being held) up in the air in what appears to be a church that must be very drafty. That’s the signature image I want hanging on my wall at home…my wife gazing at her bouquet while her maid of honor holds the veil just out of frame.
So let me ask the following question. “How dare you?” How dare you, the photographer with that shiny new camera and no experience attempt to scam me? That’s right, I said scam. You’re not just trying to scam me out of my money which can be replaced, but you are going to scam me and my family out of our memories with your lack of ability.
What you show is not what you can deliver. You know it, but unfortunately not all brides and grooms know it and end up devastated. What would you do if you got on an airplane and shortly after takeoff found out that the pilot didn’t have a whole lot of experience, but had a passion and an “eye” for flying airplanes? Assuming you made it back, would you ever fly that airline again? Would you take legal action? Would you do everything in your power to spread the word to everyone in your community to never deal with that company again? Just as a pilot needs a tremendous amount of training in a simulator, perhaps the same should go for a gatekeeper of memories.
That was mean wasn’t it? But a little tough love up front to get a new photographer on the right track is better than dealing with a devastated bride and groom later, who saw a few images you made in a workshop or outsourced to a professional editing company, but got images that were nothing like what they saw originally.
If you have been photographing for less than a couple of years, relax. Get some education, carry around a few bags and possibly clean some studio toilets to earn your way into the industry. Point your lens at test family and friend subjects that pay you with honest feedback, gratitude or lunch just as an intern would be paid. Learn and follow the rules for an extended period of time before breaking them.
It’s tempting to go to a workshop or two and then declare you’re in business, but that’s like watching the Indy 500 and saying “well I have a car so I can do it too!!” Slowing down and taking the educational route will not only allow you to learn at a faster pace, but to also enter the market at a higher quality point. Pause, listen, observe, learn and repeat this process many times before even thinking of pointing a lens at someone as a professional.