Gary Rabenko


A photographer asked me why on my website I sound like I am teaching or advising photographers. Thank you for the compliment. I write to help you better understand photographers, so you can choose the right one for the right reasons and then be prepared to get the most inspiration from the talent you have selected. Educated clients are the best clients!

Surely, in a world where so many think of themselves as photographers, some certainly do read my columns. And it is great when a few come back to me with a glimmer in their eye. That is the best compliment they can give me, because it’s real, it’s emotional. They get it!

If you follow technical developments or live on this planet, you probably are aware how artificial intelligence is advancing each day. Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to the increasing sophistication of machines to the point that in some small way, they can think, learn, and assimilate knowledge and react more as a human than as a machine. AI is applied not only in humanoid forms like robots with arms, legs, a body, and a head, but the technology is increasingly being incorporated into countless hardware and software that can learn from experiences and change behavior based on experience. Sensitive and emotional folk might consider artificial intelligence still too non-human to perform what should be emotionally based tasks like photography, when you want the real you to be captured, or as I prefer to say, sculpted.

For example, the role of a symphony orchestra conductor involves much technical training but it is the human interpretation — that human component — that makes a conductor special.

We have photo booths. We have cameras that can follow subjects and record an image when the subject smiles. Even assuming it will get all the technical settings configured appropriately, how does it elicit a meaningful expression? Does that concern you? It’s so easy to talk about wedding and portrait photographers but what are their goals? Are they looking to record bodies, faces, or personalities?

Would you prefer being photographed by an advanced copy machine or a photographer with personality? I find that very few photographers exhibit much personality, at least not while at work. Without personality, they are not going to draw out much character in the subjects they are photographing. Their results are unlikely to be meaningful to you. I know many studios have been charging more for photojournalists. But I tell you photojournalists have it easy because they don’t have to elicit a response from the subject. They don’t have to say anything or do anything or communicate in any special way to get feedback. At the most basic level, photographers are meant to be sculpting life with light. When I have the pleasure of being a photojournalist it just feels wonderful floating around. Seeing and snapping and always with the mind’s eye to tell a story, and of course, first and foremost, being aware of what light was doing in every shot, and how I can enhance, or overcome, depending on what is needed to render the subject in a flattering, meaningful, and dramatic way. My process is very peaceful and satisfying at the same time. Sure it’s challenging, after all there are only a limited number of minutes and plenty of expected moments. But unless the environment has serious obstacles and trip hazards or it’s an intricate labyrinth, maybe outdoors under a dark sky with no walls to reflect light, I find it fun and easy. I love making photographic statements about what is important and meaningful and worth documenting and doing so with lighting skill whenever at all possible. It feels most satisfying to vary light, lens, and perspective to produce images neither smartphone nor the majority of today’s professional photographers are able to match yet which so many clients will treasure.

Making those photos, generally deemed candid shots, while challenging, are far easier than having to draw out worthwhile expressions from often preoccupied or uninterested minds. I said minds and not bodies or faces, for it is the mind that is in total control of the single most important factor that will affect the subject’s appearance: thought!

Those thoughts are what will vary the otherwise blank canvas of your face until it becomes the world of personality — the look of inspiration, the key to the mystery — even if just one of many keys to one of the many locks that when released, conveys a personality that says something a photo desperately requires in order to be meaningful to you and others.

And all it takes for the photographer to destroy that potential expression is to treat a living, breathing, and, yes, thinking individual the same way a photographer might treat an object, product, or thing. But isn’t that often just exactly how photographers treat the subjects they are photographing? How many times have you seen photographers with little more style or communication skill than an MRI or x-ray technician? In fact some medical technicians can have exciting personalities that can elevate ill-feeling patients to forget that they are in pain for a moment. Or the opposite, some photographers are chummy, acting as if they are your best friend whom you just met. It’s superficial and could be offensive — not a way to endear oneself to a subject.

I say that personality is the single most significant quality one should be sensitive to when photographing people. It’s interesting to note that as we keep making artificial intelligence more human, more intuitive, and more sensitive to human qualities, we humans are also evolving into being less emotive, and trying to be less unique and individual — one could say even less human. Children practice springing into Instagram poses. Bat mitzvah girls, instead of wishing to be treated like grown-up, mature ladies or the occasional glamorous model also actively request poses they themselves describe as Instagram poses.

The whole concept of photojournalism and its popularity developed over the last twenty years as a response to the majority of photographers’ best-intended efforts at doing what a handful of the best photographers were able to do. If you had one of those as your photographer, you would have felt good about your photos and need look no further. But only a few professionals are ever inspired. The photojournalism movement would never have developed if everyone got high quality meaningful images, as were those that a handful of New York photographers were producing. The rejection of the classical posed photos in favor of the more candid style of photojournalism was totally due to the perceived emptiness most classical efforts delivered.

Now once again change is afoot. We are seeing a rejection of flattering, attractive, and meaningful insights into subjects in favor of the latest fashionable extreme — corny copy of superficiality. Here nothing is more than skin deep. Nor can images be interpreted in any meaningful way because people of all ages wear masks to hide their real identities behind faux poses, with put-on facial expressions and over-emphasized body positions.

We are becoming more fake and clonelike, while advances in machines make them more human. This cannot be artificial stupidity. This is reality.

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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