Photo Prose

By Gary Rabenko

Admit it: you’re not quite sure how you feel or should feel about photographers. Are they skilled and talented artists, or are they near idiots who take photos instead of having a real job? Are they just an extra pair of hands? Or do you specifically not want to hire someone for a job you think you could do yourself? Do you see a wedding, bar mitzvah, or other simcha as something really special, or just another day to have a few memories of?

The contrasting mindsets between those who feel photographers are the lowest that society has to offer and those who have the highest respect and regard for what some of us can do is fascinating. For photographers and those who respect photographers, here are some thoughts.

Photographers practically volunteer to photograph an engagement, believing that it puts them on track to do the wedding. Then they find that families want someone more serious, more experienced, or just different. Maybe the engagement was a test, a trial, a preview to see if they like your photos and if they like you! Which do you think is more important? Yes, you must be likable, but the photos too must be liked.

The engagement rarely has a place set up for photos like the chuppah or bedeken area. No one has patience. The couple expect to pose for pictures the way they would for a friend, not to be professionally guided. All want to meet and better greet the other side. These few minutes amidst the noise and chaos of the caterer still setting up and the uncertainty of what even the best photographer should be doing is going to be the litmus test for choosing a photographer later? Are you sure this is good for anyone?

When you consider that two minutes are often spent deciding on the engagement photographer and more than two months often are invested in making the wedding decision, there is a great chance that the same photographer who understands exactly what you want and will expect for the wedding is just winging it at the engagement. And you want him to wing it. At the wedding you have more time, and it is more of a priority for everyone. With 30—45 minutes planned for engagement photos–usually by only one photographer, no bridal gown, and no desire by anyone to venture into artistic experimentation in posing and group arrangement–the situation is totally different.

Decades of experience have taught me that any photographer who comes in thinking he is going to create sample work under these circumstances will surely antagonize and alienate the families and the couple, who most likely want a nice person to “take a few pictures” in a low-key, gentle manner. The newbie who sees dollar signs at the end of the shoot will likely be disappointed to hear “He was very nice, but the photos are nothing special.” And the pro who agreed to the shoot for a song quickly realizes that nothing would have been lost by just waiting for the wedding!

Similarly, some photographers just shoot and burn. When you view an image, you are viewing the result of many things before, during, and after the exposure. When you get an album–say of 100 images–each of those images should have been adjusted by the photographic artist so it will look right in the context of how it is being used, and in relation to the images seen before and soon to be seen after. When you buy a disc of thousands of images, it simply is not reasonable to expect that anyone can adjust all those images with the same attention. Those images are only roughly adjusted.

“Shoot and burn” turns over the printing and presentation of images to others who have little skill or real interest in photography. You, the photographer, will not be on the prints and albums. Your vision will not be continued from the start of image acquisition to what you shot it to be. The disc is taken to a consumer lab or drugstore vendor to do a fast and basic print job. Disc buyers who go to a pro lab often find it frustrating. Labs make money on volume at pennies a print. They don’t have time to talk to you. And you do not know what to say to them. It will be difficult to get professional-looking imagery.

Some people bring me the discs and want me to “fix things.” But by then they know how paying someone to shoot and burn a disc leads to everyone getting burned. The photographer who cannot possibly be expected to care much, the lab who is caught in the middle between fixing, explaining, and blaming, and the client who will never know what could have been. Artists should control how their images will look and be paid for what the images will mean to you later.

If you will care about your photos, it makes sense to hire a photographer who has reason to care before, during, and after the big day. It makes sense for him to have an interest in images that are properly exposed and that are exciting and thrilling to you. Much of a photographer’s pay is in the appreciation from his clients. There can be little appreciation when the photographer is not completing the project. Photographers do not make much money on albums, prints, and bindings. That is why so many are happy just to shoot and burn. But unless their fee covers the tremendous post-production time needed to work on all the images, and compensates them for having no credit for or control of the final product, then either they are getting burned or you will be. Those who respect photographers pay for the skill to acquire the images, post-production time to adjust the images, and the additional work any prints or album designs will need, whether it be for a wedding or an engagement party. v

Gary Rabenko can be reached at Rabenko Photography & Video Artists is located at 1001 Broadway in Woodmere.


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