by Gary Rabenko

Today’s powerful image when copied tomorrow may no longer seem as powerful when viewed by one who had seen a precursor yesterday. As the imitation continues, that once powerful image will gradually become nothing more than a cliché. It will offend rather than impress. Social media accelerates this dwindling value.

Discerning clients often make it a point of appreciating interesting viewpoints and perspectives. The reason for going to one photographer instead of another should be due to your photographers’ vision, viewpoint, and interpretation all working together to produce results that are purposely different and can be expected to be more valuable to you later. Meaningful imagery gains in value.

But with all the various online photography groups, loads of photography blogs and websites, and scores of companies offering training for a fee, I get the impression that all are developing the same viewpoints, interpretations, and vision. I get this impression because conversations with them seem so similar. Most photographers sound like they simply want to do the same thing that everyone else is doing. They want to sound the same, speak the same, and think the same.

So how can we expect them to be any different? You may not get that impression because you might be hearing them all say that I am wrong and that they each want to be different. That each wants to be unique. That each wants to do their own thing and is in fact claiming to do just that, which is doing the same thing that everyone else is doing. Have I lost you so far? Well just in case I have, trust me — they are all doing and thinking the same thing.

This week a popular voice among photographers explained that no client really cares at all about photographers having any old world-established skill. He was referring to my mention of mastery of the technical science behind how light behaves and can shape a three-dimensional world in a two dimensional medium. His has long been the impression of my viewpoint echoed by many working photographers in this community. I am not happy that they feel one does not need to know such science and one does not need to have lighting knowledge in order to be known as a great photographer. How terrible.

In the past, most photographers at least wished they knew, but had no one to teach them. Now their mindset is that it is no longer important: so untrue! Sure, it is possible to do some things by rote, by routine, by copying what others are doing. But unless one understands the lighting theory, optics, and the mechanics of photography, one will not be able to understand, anticipate, and ultimately be able to feel how subtle variations and larger ones can and will influence all the variables that go to making the result what it will be. And that is all about doing what is right for this moment!

I am always looking to hire the best photographers and videographers. Those who lack a core understanding of relevant science that is needed for the results that my clients and I value simply don’t measure up and cannot produce what I require for my clients.

Are we interested in the big, bold, and brash, or in the sensitive, tenuous, and subtle? Here is a boy playing with a ball. But is that all we care to read from the image, or are we looking for what makes this boy special at this moment with this ball? And that very significant subtlety will either be brought to life by the skilled use of light or erased by many photographers without such skill.

This week I was reading about emoji. Everyone loves and is using those cute faces, fingers, and forms to express happiness, sadness, anger, confusion, surprise, as well as good, bad, evil, thumbs up and down, and most any obvious emotion or reaction imaginable. Like social media, I am reluctant to use them, even though I admit they are fun and fast, but what do they really mean? I have to look real close and even then sometimes I am not certain what exactly is meant. I find that I am not alone, because there has been a lot of research into their use and interpretation, and indeed they can be misunderstood. How might our bombardment by and acceptance of mediocre imagery that is either bland or has become a cliché, coincide with our use of emoji that we don’t really feel we need to spend any time interpreting?

Could it be that with the prevalence of incredible technology allowing skilled photographers to do so much to produce powerful imagery, we are still drowning in such vast quantities of meaningless imagery that we have lost interest in interpreting and reading most?

Worse, I have to expect that the majority of photographers who admittedly have little training or who don’t realize they have the wrong training are products of that lack of attention to the subtle, that they don’t, can’t, and won’t be able to read and respond to it when it is right there in front of them on their shoot.

I love the fact that in so many ways, technology and products are daily making my work easier and that I can keep offering my clients better pricing on all kinds of projects. But while the support tools and services add convenience, they certainly do not substitute for skill.

Photographers today often take the responsibility of photographing a wedding so very much less seriously than any time in recent memory. This cannot be good for anyone. It is not how a photographer cares enough to invest in the best gear, be practiced and prepared, or as I always say: makes the most of every moment!

Does the public care about detail? When we care, don’t we care what we say and how we are interpreted? Don’t we take time to do what is important? Communication in many ways is less important because it has become so easy. If we can send cliché symbols about what we feel, then might we lose sensitivity to the subtle and nuanced expressions we no longer expect from real people?

I know some people still care at all levels. And I understand that for many, the less nuanced and skilled photographer can probably produce the wedding emoji most will find adequate.

Rabenko Photography & Video Arts is located at 1053 Broadway in Woodmere. To learn more, contact, 1-888-RABENKO, 888-722-3656, or visit


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