Photo Prose

By Gary Rabenko

Good photographers have a big problem. The sheer ease of being able to do any photography, coupled with the economy and job market, has created a glut of “photographers.”

Photography prices today are wild and extreme. Misleading advertising that mentions price sets a bar that fails to account for clients’ needs and expectations.

Anyone can take photos. There has always been a huge difference between skilled photographers and picture-takers. But technology makes recognition of the less important so easy, that the vital is often missed.

With film, amateurs could fear their shutter was not opening, or their settings so malapropos as to get unusable exposures. Maybe composition was chopping heads off. Digital has emboldened confidence. Oh, image too dark? Take another, lighter. Head chopped off? No, you can see it. But the fact is that the feeling and true meaning in a photo is mostly due to subtleties not at all easily grasped from the camera viewfinder or ground glass. Today, good photographers still pre-visualize what they expect to get and they have eagle eyes for what is right. Pre-visualization is an advanced practice that can only be done once the photographer has mastered a technical understanding of light and optics and thoroughly and deeply understands all the camera settings being applied in a shot.

Other photographers need Seeing Eye dogs! I find that most photographers shooting for budget-based studios really do not have any understanding of the theory of light. The same light will be used with any image-capture machine, film or digital. They really do not feel the light. Automation reduces cost. We understand that. But what is being automated is not only all the technical settings that otherwise would be needed. Automation has crept into how photographers actually think! There is more than a four-to-one range in what the freelance photographers might be getting paid at various studios. There can be a five-to-one difference in studio retail pricing between the better and lesser quality outfits. You are not paying for the same 8” × 10” print or album, though the physical measurement of the paper in the end product no doubt is the same. You are paying for all the thought, consideration, awareness, and concern on many levels that is being applied to each shot.

Or you are paying less, often much less, for the lack of thought and mindless shooting that occurs automatically by persons just “doing a job” for outfits that only look at it as a job.

Occasionally I have hired an extra photographer, giving that person a chance to show me what he can do, and to prove to me why he is ready to move up from the level he is at somewhere else. Some photographers can give good job interviews, but may show photos they themselves were not totally responsible for, as when they were a second or third photographer on a shoot and the lead photographer was directing the subjects and lighting. Some photographers talk wonderful technojabber, but ask them specific questions and they are speechless.

In my studio, I have repeatedly shown a set of hidden photos specifically made without any lighting technique to photographers who boast of their lighting skills, only to have them rave about my rejected photos, referring to the technique displayed in the shot, when it was in fact devoid of any technique!

It is such a pleasure to speak to the rare photographer who really knows light and can see it. Most only think they can, and are dumbfounded in any real critique. The biggest difference between photographers at varying prices is understanding. It is all about how they think and how they see. You are hiring someone to interpret the event with their heart, mind, and eyes and to create a body of images that tell the story of your day, as you will want to see it. You should not be hiring someone merely to move around with a camera and take pictures.

When a person has mastered the many techniques and can do what most cannot, and has been recognized by others with skill as being skilled, there is a tendency to have standards, and reasons for what they do. Yes, they may lower their price a bit. But they will not charge a fraction of what they are worth just to keep busy. Nor do they enjoy working for studios that are not able to appreciate their talents. Good studios know they do what most cannot. They know the arduous steps they go through from the start of a project to its completion. The personal involvement and attention to detail that they spend every step of the way is what makes the end product special and valuable. Quality control and self-criticism are responsible for making the photographer’s raw visions into a gorgeous, glamorous, magnificently finished album. While most cheap studios use cheap photographers whose vision is off-point and uninspired, some low-end companies are lucky to have one or two good photographers. Those can show a much better sample album. And the proofs will have some magic. But trust me, it does not take long for a better photographer to lower his standards when the studio owner really only is watching the bottom line. Nor can they do much creative work that relies on costly postproduction to look good.

The price of cheap photography is very dear. It leads to such an abundance of weak imagery that has us expecting little more. Ironically, in an age when technology has never been better, the imagery we buy for our home may never have been weaker. Great imagery inspires. Bad imagery is a reminder of the high cost paid for cheap photography. See, it is not only good photographers that have a problem. You could too. v

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


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