Photo Prose

By Gary Rabenko

Last time, I asked about your photographic priorities. Here are some additional aspects to think about.

Some studios give loose photos–prints–like an 11” × 14” and wallets. The exact sizes can vary. But some include that in all packages. Others do not because it raises the price somehow and should not be the deciding criterion. If you do not absolutely love the photography, then a few more photos won’t make a difference. What do you think? How important is this to you in making a decision?

Some studios give more proofs. Are 1,000 proofs not worth as much as 1,500? Are paper proofs better than files on a CD? If you get the files on a CD and can print the paper proofs yourself, getting just the ones you want, does the studio need to make those proofs for you? Is there a value to doing so? Maybe fewer proofs are worth more? Would you rather have 1,000 better photos, or 2,000 that include second-rate shots you need to edit out? Suppose instead of the 1,000 better photos, you had 2,000 photos all just as good–does that mean you will be happy having so many more great images in your album? Will you use more images in your album if you get 2,000 good shots instead of 1,000? Or will it mean that much more effort to cut down the number of proofs, to the same small number that will be in your album?

How many photos should the photographer make? Some shoot just what most clients buy. They shoot what they call the money shots. That is all they care about. Others shoot more artistically and can miss some of those money shots while busy looking for artistic shots.

Others work hard to shoot everything in all categories and give you a whopping number of images, but is this appreciated, or is this too much?

What is more important: the album, or the images in the album? You probably will say the images. If they are not meaningful, then what good is a fancy leather, cloth, or wood binding of them? But I ask this question because if the images are the true value–if they are worth the bulk of your contract, not the prints or the binding–then it is the photographer’s work, his vision, at the event that is most important. So if the photographer is asked to do a very low-budget job, where can he cut to lower the cost to you? Does this mean he can reduce how much he shoots, in addition to how many images, prints, or albums are included?

Portraits are a big part of most albums. Some albums have each and every family member in each and every meaningful combination with other family members. Other albums have just a large family group shot, or maybe all the men, then all the women–thus using two shots. My point is that if you are not going to be using all those shots, then maybe it’s needlessly stressful and time-consuming to bother doing them to begin with. And the same point can be made regarding the dancing, the tisch, the chuppah, etc. Having shots of each person who dances with the bride or groom is important when you are going to use a hundred dancing shots and now can choose who you want. But if you are not going to use the sisters, brothers, and friends dancing, but only the parents and grandparents, let’s say, then why is the photographer expected to get all those shots?

OK, so you say that you like everything in the proofs, but put a few things in the album. This might sound logical, but logically it might make more sense for the photographer to be able to concentrate on getting the shots you will care so much for that you will need to have them in the album, rather than spreading himself thin trying to do everything, including most that won’t be important enough to make the album cut!

If the shoot is the main value, then you are getting so much even if you are not getting many albums or prints, right? When shopping for a photographer, one might best consider the shoot costs and compare those fees to each other. Comparing apples to apples in this might be the better gauge of skill, experience, talent, and ultimately value. Rather than including secondary factors like album size and image quantity, perhaps the shoot fee might be what separates the experts from the hacks. How much is the acquisition of imagery worth?

What’s with all these questions! So far, this column and the last have been nothing but questions. Don’t I have answers? Indeed I do, but when you are shopping for a photographer, your questions are the most important. Your questions define for the photographer how you see–what criteria you will be using to judge and hopefully to enjoy the photos later. If your questions are mostly of the how many, how much, and how big type, it might suggest that you are not so much into the actual emotion and substance of the photos, but simply want lots of moments and memories. Possibly a lesser skilled photographer may suffice. Then again, will a memory be served by a photo that shows a person in a bland or basic way, like most of the snapshots you see in newspapers today, or would such basic photos actually contradict the great memories that are one’s mental images of a beautiful moment?

Again I am back to asking questions, because it is really your decision. The questions I have been asking are good ones to ask of yourself before shopping. Advice articles always give you questions to ask the photographer. Problem is, he reads those same advice articles and knows the answers to have ready! That may be why so many photographers sound so similar. Today, there can be a huge difference in the price of photography. In many ways, technology has made imagery much easier. But at an advanced level, that same technology has turned a few basic steps like having a lab develop 20 rolls of film and the studio then sending you 480 proofs, which is a five-minute job, to what can now be days of work, involving dozens of adjustments on thousands of images.

Who is making those adjustments, and how are they being made? The images can be adjusted by the photographer, by a technician, by an assistant, by a lab’s personnel who never were involved in the event at all, or by the studio owner, who may be an artist, a technician, or a businessperson. You can believe that even after the event, those actually involved in the preparation of the photos will make a major difference in how they look and how you will enjoy them. But the studio owner still has a business to run and numerous other duties, even in cases where he is the artist you rely on to edit the photos and the reason you went to this studio.

So the more he is involved, the less time he has to do other events. Whose vision and judgment are you paying for? Do you want his, or will any “experienced” person do? An artist is an individual. Each employee has certain talents and skills, but the vision must come from the top, and your imagery is either strongly influenced by the artist’s involvement from the top down, or it will basically be a free-for-all, with quality control being hit-or-miss . . . mostly miss.

So what are your priorities? Is it price, crew personality, available products, quantity, size–or is it experience, skill, talent, and true artistry that shows in how people look and how the images make you feel? Maybe some of the questions I have asked can help you make the better decision for yourself. Or maybe you have questions about today’s photography and video choices. I would love to hear your priorities! v

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


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