I don’t have a photograph to run with this article.
I wouldn’t want to even think about what photograph I would run here.
And, by the way, this is me being pissed off again. So if that sort of thing makes you uneasy, and you are all fine with an industry leader calling you out as being incompetent in order to sell his latest book, I bid you head on over to a Flickr forum and take in all the wonderful kitty photographs there.
I have something to say in defense of photographers from one of the most offensive articles I have ever read.
And I have read my share.
Hey, bigtime photography guy…
I will address a few things that particularly bug me.
“Recently, an investment banker from New York hired a photographer over the Internet.”
Really. From LA? The photographer he found was in LA?
Is that because of the dearth of good photographers in New York? Was no one available in the five Burroughs? Was he dumb as a stump but still able to look up stuff on the internet?
Look, this may be true, but it really seems far fetched to me… and really, it seems as though the investment banker did very little due diligence. Something that investment bankers generally are pretty good about… ya know.
“Meanwhile, across the country, the young photographer was thrilled about her new “Rockstar” assignment. Imagine being hired to fly to New York City to shoot an engagement proposal!”
Wow. That’s pretty cool.
How do you know that? Did this come from an interview? Did said young lady confess that she was grossly negligent in her work and was fine with opening herself up to liability issues that an investment banker could take advantage of?
Now the investment banker would have to get an attorney… probably have to go to Tongo or Singapore for one of those. There being so few lawyers and photographers in New York City and all.
But I digress.
Sounds like someone is making shit up… but, I will concede that it is possibly true.
“She felt that her career had hit a new level, so, to prepare for the shoot, she invested in a workshop by a well-known, established photographer. At “shooting workshops” like this, the lecturer provides professional models and stylists, chooses the locations, and sets up all of the lighting.”
“Typically, neophyte professional photographers go to these events not to learn, but to capture images for use in their own portfolios.”
Many go to learn. They save up to go and learn.
Are there bad workshops out there? Sure.
But throwing them all under the bus is pretty lame, doncha think?
(Wow, I am starting to get the impression he doesn’t like photographers very much… they are stupid, self-interested and totally unable to grasp concepts…)
“But this young woman wanted to learn. She did her best to absorb the techno-babble being shouted, rapid-fire, by the instructor.”
How offensive is this shit? Really? Were you there? Technobabble?
“Terms like “selective focusing,” “open aperture,” and “2:1 ratio.””
Oh… thanks for clearing that up. Photographer stuff.
“She wanted the best results for her Central Park shoot, so when she got there, she simply clicked the top dial of her camera from P to M. And changed nothing else.”
She admitted that to you?
Hell, this investment banker guy may only have to go to Cleveland to find an attorney to handle this atrocity. This is a no brainer… she admits gross negligence and an admitted lack of knowledge. I imagine even a Cleveland lawyer could go for fraud… or manslaughter. (It’s Cleveland…)
“During the shoot, she saw all-white images on the LCD display, but didn’t see the danger that was lurking. You see, there is a belief that almost any error can be fixed in post-production if the images are shot in RAW mode. Not so. The shoot was a total loss. The client paid a huge fee and wound up with nothing.”
Well, soon he will own her car, house, and most of what she will make over the next 10 years.
And – wait a minute… she had a book good enough to be hired by a New York investment banker who was not able to find anyone in Manhattan capable of doing the amazing shit she had on her website?
That had to be a pretty good book.
But she didn’t know what an overexposed image looks like?
“Professional photography lacks this type of governing body. And because of this, it’s a world of chaos, where there is no perceptible divide between a true professional and an amateur posing as one.”
And here it comes…
Wait for it…
We need protection.
“To become a real professional photographer requires at least a one-to two-year apprenticeship period of just carrying bags for another photographer and observing.”
Well, that would be great, but really… carrying bags and observing?
“What bothers me the most is this new crop of “You can do it!” evangelists appearing on YouTube, offering effusive challenges to “Face your fears and just do it!” That is, go pro. As a result, cautious (and rightfully so) photographers are quitting their day jobs and going full-time as shooters, before they are ready.”
Ahh… stupid people. We really cannot legislate against stupid people. Anyone who watches a YouTube video and quits their job to become a photographer with no experience is… well… a stupid people.
And after mentoring photographers for over 5 years, I can honestly say I have never really experienced someone that stupid. Is this really a problem?
Note… If YOU have quit your job because of a YouTube video telling you to “Go Go Go” for it, PLEASE write me with your story. I will send you some goodies and help in any way I can.)
“I know of two photographers who have faced jail sentences because of their wedding photography mess-ups (there are many more).”
And yet Google only lists the wedding photographers who went to jail for FRAUD, THEFT and Malicious behaviors. Not mess-ups. Not accidents, or even bad service.
We do not throw people in jail for bad service or bad photographs.
“… and there are many more…”
“I think this is only the first wave of many such cautionary tales until a governing body like the Yoga Alliance enters into professional photography. Photographers who work for paid assignments absolutely must have a minimum level of experience – to protect the consumer and to protect themselves.”
There it is. A call for protectionism. We have to “protect” the consumers. Poor stupid investment bankers who get fleeced from terrible girls from California.
NO. NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO.
These governing boards or licensing groups are simply gatekeepers to KEEP OUT younger, more creative people. They don’t exist to HELP anyone but the founders and the cronies.
Look around… we are being told we NEED this with the most outrageously stupid tale of ignorance imaginable.
I am truly sorry for the Investment Banker from NY, but he bears some responsibility.
And the photographer from CA (if she exists) bears responsibility as well.
But the vast majority of hard working, decent, customer oriented photographers do not need to be codified and certified before being unleashed on the poor, ignorant masses.
Because they are NOT ignorant masses. They are totally capable of hiring decent photographers.
“In California, in order to be a nail technologist in a spa, you have to be certified. This protects consumers from a bad nail experience. Shouldn’t professional photographers (who are entrusted with preserving the most important moments in their clients’ lives) be subject to the same standard?”
Ummm… I am going to go with NOOOOOOOO.
There is a vast difference between a ‘bad nail experience’ which could have health threatening consequences and a photograph.
And just WHO is going to tell us what is a “good” photograph? Who will set those standards.
I remember reading about how hard it was for composers in Stalinist Russia. The people who decided what was “good” music had very, lets’s say SPECIFIC qualifications for the work to be deemed suitable for the public to hear.
Wanna guess how many composers tried new stuff, or went avant garde?
Gatekeepers are last century thinking. Politburos for photography is not this century thinking. Do you want Dick Cheney telling you what is good? Do you want Joe Biden making creative decisions on your vision?
Cause no matter what side of the aisle you are on, that is what you get with guilds. No talent hacks with authority.
That is NOT a good plan for this industry. Reaching back to the early 20th century for solutions is not the right thing to do.
And it never will be. The markets are too wide, the needs to diverse.
Someone may want their wedding shot with a P&S or iPhone?
The “guild” says NO. Only 24 MP cameras with 2.8 lenses are allowed. Maybe they’ll get that idiot Judge Joe Brown to investigate if the photographer has a Pelican case or not.
Now see this wonderful juxtaposition:
“What is the motive for these “go pro” evangelists? Profit. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll see these cheerleaders are selling products targeted directly at the new photographer, including educational materials and template websites.”
“Until then, one modest proposal I offer in my book, “So You Want To Be A Rockstar Photographer” is an interview disclosure form.”
(NOTE… I have discussed this what I consider a poorly conceived form before… here)
Fear. Fear is a great motivator. It creates panic. It creates a need for protection.
It sells books.
Look… there are bad experiences with photographers all the time. But I dare say they are a tiny, tiny percentage. How many wonderful weddings were shot this past Saturday? How many incredible editorial images were created last week? How many senior sessions and family sessions and model portfolios and maternity shots and kid portraits and portraits of those in need were shot last week?
And how many news reports of fraud and abuse?
None. None that I know of.
In the world of discourse there is something called the “Straw Man” argument.
It goes like this: First I CREATE a problem… a “Straw Man” and then I knock it down. It falls easily as it is made of straw, and I know how to take it down… I created it.
This is classic straw man argument.
First the nearly non-existant problem illustrated by something that borders on absurd. Does this sort of problem – idiot investment bankers hiring untried photographers from across the continent and having it totally fail – happen a lot?
I say it does not. It may happen occasionally, but not a lot.
Straw Man #1. Fear for the consumer.
Then the fear of being thrown in the hoosegow if you inadvertently format a card wrong. Or your images are a little overexposed. I hope it doesn’t come as a shock to you that you will NOT GO TO JAIL unless you commit fraud or abuse your client.
Yes, you can be sued. And they can take your stuff. But JAIL and IMPRISONMENT are NOT what happens in this country. We have no debtors prisons. (Something all the twenty somethings are sighing in relief over as they contemplate their student loans.)
But if that happens all the time, why does it make the news?
It makes the news precisely because it DOESN’T happen all the time.
Straw Man #2. Fear for the photographers.
Then the solution is offered. Buy the book.
I love photographers. I love photography. I love being knocked out when looking at some new photographer’s work, or when a Project 52 member hits one out of the park. I love the whimsical, serendipitous nature of the creative process.
I don’t want creativity to be turned into something akin to building inspectors and government byoorokrats. Old, tired, washed up losers with badges and authority to claim that this photographer is not living up to the code, not thinking ‘right’… we must strip them of their livelihood until they get with the program.
Didn’t work in Russia, wont work here.
The photographers I know are conscientious, hard working, creative vision driven people with an honest to God need to want to do well. The vast majority of professional photographers ARE professional in each and everything they do. The examples in the article are NOT professionals, they are wannabees. Excitable and over-enthusiastic and in many cases NOT ready for prime time.
But keeping them away with “credentials” and “papers” and “tests” and hoops and more tests and fees and renewables and fingerprinting and DNA samples…
Is that what you really want for photographers?
I reject the fear mongering and gatekeeper frenzy of those who want to man those gates so tightly.
It is wrong. it is cowardice. It is protectionism and fear mongering.
And… it is bullshit.
Recently an article caught my attention over at TIME. “Last Launch: Dan Winters and the Shuttle Program. TIME had commissioned Winters to photograph the final launch of the Space Shuttle and they showed a few of the images that will soon be in the book.
The images are outstanding, and exactly what you would expect from a photographer like Winters, but it also got me thinking about gear.
And yeah, he used a lot of gear.
The work begins the day before launch, when he positions up to nine cameras as little as 700 ft. (213 m) away from the pad. Each camera is manually focused and set for the particular shot it is meant to capture, and the wheels of the lens are then taped into position so that they can’t be shaken out of focus when the engines are lit. Electronic triggers—of Winters’ own devising—that do react to the vibrations are attached to the cameras so that the shutter will start snapping the instant ignition occurs.
To prevent the cameras from tipping over on their tripods, Winters drills anchoring posts deep into the soil and attaches the tripods to them with the same tie-down straps truckers use to secure their loads. He also braces each leg of the tripod with 50-lb. (23 kg) sandbags to minimize vibration. Waterproof tarps protect the whole assembly until launch day, when they are removed and the cameras are armed.
That is a lot of seriously expensive gear.
But I also suspect that many other photographers have access to that kind of gear. I don’t know for sure, but would expect that Winter’s rented a lot of that gear, or it was furnished through a Pro Shooter service of the camera manufacturers.
But I also suspect that gear is not what Dan was hired to bring.
He was hired to shoot this unique moment in American history because of the vision he brings to the shoot. Having the gear is cool, but KNOWING where to put it to get dramatic, amazing, story telling shots… that is the vision thing.
And yeah, it takes a long time to develop that.
Depends on the photographer. Depends on the quest. Depends on how much filtering and listening to critiques and forcing through places walls of doubt he/she is willing to do.
Having gear without the vision is like having a Steinway without knowing how to play piano. Will the Steinway help a young player become better? Will it help a composer create ‘better’ sonatas? Will a floundering jazz pianist with limited talent suddenly become gifted with unlimited improvisational skills just after acquiring a Steinway?
Of course not.
Nor will a writer create better fiction on a new version of Word, or a dancer with a shiny new barre.
Does good or great gear help the performance? Of course! But it doesn’t mean that performances on lesser gear would be bad. The photographer/musician/writer would have to be so sure of their vision, that the less than perfect tools would be used to their best level to present THE best level of art from the artist.
An writer may take 3 times longer to ‘type’ out the story on an old typewriter, but the story itself will still be the story that was in the mind of the author. The composer may be limited to working with a battery powered keyboard with a limited range, but the sonata produced would still be the same piece as she had imagined in her mind.
And a photographer with vision will be able to create images with nearly any camera or gear given him. It may not have the resolution that he is used to. It may be a different crop factor than he is used to. It may make only a small file, or be incapable of flash, or have ergonomics that are strange…
But the vision is within the photographer who then takes the limitations of the gear and works within those limitations to make the image. The image they see in their head. The image they see in their head with the restrictions of the gear they have, that is.
I often hear photographers complain about people who say to them “Wow, your camera takes really good pictures.” They want to insist that it is the photographer, they themselves, that made the photograph.
But then turn around and make similar, although more technically fluent, statements about having this lens or that lens. “Kit” lenses are reviled. Fast glass is the quest. Bigger sensors, more FPS, ISO’s in the millions…
Meh. I am gonna go with “Photographers make the photograph.” A solid photographer could take a good Point and Shoot on vacation and blow people’s minds with the images.
And a photographer with no ideas, no vision and no craft will NOT be able to make ‘better’ photographs with the new gear. They will be bigger file sizes and take up more HD space, but still, well… suck.
Ask yourself this… if a shooter with no vision had been given the exact same gear as Winters, would they have brought back the same or equal quality of imagery? I know my answer would be no.
Stop using lack of having a ____(gear)____ as an excuse for not shooting. Or not shooting well.
Or not knocking it out of the park and blowing people’s minds with your work.
That’s the truly difficult and terrifying part of photography… the part where we have to admit that it really does come down to us. Our vision. Or lack of.
But that is something we can work on no matter what gear we use.
Shoot, shoot, shoot. Critique. Repeat.
Yes, there are times when the gear itself is PART of the vision. You cannot fake a Tilt/Shift lens. And if you want to shoot underwater you MUST have good waterproof gear. But we aren’t talking about this subject that granularly.
Photography at its best can be a reflection of the world in ways that we have never been seen before. It is the photographer’s vision that makes the image become more than it could have been.
But at the heart of the photographer’s vision, there is a deep foundation of the art and the technology that is required to create images that transcend the normal.
Photography is one of the most incredible art forms known.
It combines composition, and color, and tonality, and aesthetic sensibilities with technology that is as precise as it is deliberate.
Many art forms can lay claim to that set of parameters – or at least many of them.
But only photography has the element of time. Time frozen in the vision of the photographer. Time that was captured in an instant of the photographers choosing.
That choice made by determining the nature of the subject unfolding in front of them… in a heartbeat or faster, the shutter captures something that was seen, but only in that moment.
Dance can be seen live, and on video or film, but the moments of the dance are blurred to create an entire piece meant to be savored from the beginning to the end.
A painter can paint the dancer again and again and again to get it just right.
But a photographer has no second chances, no video to show a totality.
A photographer has a single moment.
A single photograph of a dancer, caught in that never to be seen again moment is all up to the one who makes the decision. The decision to activate a shutter that reveals the light.
At that exact moment in time.
Precisely at the moment the photographer has been waiting for, planning for, working for… that “moment” when it all comes together and makes something extraordinary.
And then it is gone. Forever.
But for the image that was caught, that moment is lost.
Time is the vessel of photography. The print is its legacy.
Imagine the skill involved in making that choice. Imagine the depth of sheer knowledge that is brought to bear on that ‘click’… that moment that the photographer has chosen to capture. Imagine photography without the limitations of time.
Skills that develop slowly give way to a comfort in the making of images. A comfort that will inevitably give way to a deeper push for better skills and understanding of the process.
Like the tall trees on the beach, photography is seen on the surface, but buoyed by the deeper roots of the artist.
And like the trees, artists with deep roots whether the toughest of storms, the heat of summer and the frost of winters. The roots keep them anchored even as they are thrown about on the surface by storms of indifference and self doubt.
At least long enough for them to stalk that moment in time when all come together whether from deliberateness or whimsy, and that tiny sliver of a moment is caught and rendered as a photograph.
Keith was a photographer in Atlanta, Georgia. A dedicated artist and all around fun guy, he nonetheless harbored a deep and unrelenting anger toward the Kudzu that grew all around his studio.
(For those unenlightened souls, Kudzu is an Asian plant brought to Georgia by really stupid people who thought they were smart. It now covers over 7 million acres in Georgia, and may soon choke off all life forms on this planet. OK, that may not happen… but after you read this story you may have to change your perspective.)
On occasions when we would Skype he would sometimes have heated and angry words off microphone with the Kudzu that was trying to get inside his apartment.
“I just don’t know what they want with me,” he once confessed over beers at a little BBQ place near downtown. The band was so loud I could hardly hear him shouting, but his eyes said he was seriously concerned.
“The damn Kudzu is trying to kill me… I know it,” he shouted. I smiled and told him that was all in his head and that Kudzu, although a terribly aggressive plant, was not out to kill him.
“Dude,” I shouted back at him, “it’s only a weed.”
Keith smiled a bit and shook his head, took a long swig of the Corona and shouted back… “I hope you are right.
When we left the BBQ joint, his car had three strands of Kudzu wrapped around the front wheels.
He looked at me and just shook his head.
“They are gonna get me, I know it.”
I didn’t know how to comfort a person being stalked by an Asian transplanted weed. Comfort them? Build up their self esteem? Naww… I had a better idea.
Give them a 40 Gallon Drum of “Weed-Be=Gone?
His eyes were a little misty when he grabbed the pump handle and started spraying the Kudzu that had grown in the window in his kitchen while we were outside dragging the herbicide in to his living room.
There was about 12 feet of Kudzu wrapped around the dining room table. It kinda gave me the creeps… I heard it was fast, but 12 feet in 20 minutes? Maybe Keith had a point.
Keith started pumping and spraying, pumping and spraying. The Kudzu was dying right before our eyes and he began laughing just a little bit. A giggle of sorts erupted in spurts as he was yelling and spraying the Kudzu outside the window.
“Die, you rotten green bastards… die” He was shouting and spraying and laughing like a madman. I was sure the neighbors would complain, but then what do you say to a crazed weed killing machine with 40 gallons of liquid death strapped to a shopping cart?
The carnage continued unabated for nearly 10 minutes.
I felt a little uncomfortable… like that last scene in ‘Taxi Driver’ when DeNiro shoots up the whorehouse looking for that chick who made that weird guy want to shoot President Reagan. You want to look away, but the carnage is just too interesting to stop.
After the smoke had cleared (actually there wasn’t any smoke, it was a misted liquid herbicide and as such did not create heat but that is boring so I chose to use the ‘smoke had cleared’ as a metaphor), we sat down for a couple of beers and a cigar.
We laughed and told stories all through the night. Every once in a while Keith would glance toward the window, which was open for the first time in about 3 years. He would get this big ol’ Atlanta grin when there was no Kudzu coming in at the edges.
We called it a night about 3 in the morning and I headed back to the Rodeway Inn for a few hours sleep.
We met the next day to do some photographing and I asked to get a shot of him standing outside in the bare yard. He agreed and wanted to show his buds a Kudzu free yard.
“They are never gonna believe this,” he laughed. “Damn, I did it.”
He turned and smiled at me. A real thankful kinda smile.
“Thank you buddy, I appreciate your help.”
I laughed and told him no problem as I brought the viewfinder of the old Nikon F2 to my eye.
There was a sudden wind and a rushing sound like I had never heard and I simply jerked from the the unexpected crash around me. I clicked the shutter out of sheer response as I fell to the ground and when I looked up… Keith was gone.
Cops searched high and low for him, and I had a lot of explaining to do, but eventually they believed me to be innocent and let me go.
It shook me to the bone, and when I left the cops I wished I had had the guts to tell them that the Kudzu overgrown lawn was totally bare when Keith stepped out onto it. That the jungle of vines had simply swept in from nowhere.
But I was a little afraid of what that meant, so I high tailed it back to Arizona where Kudzu isn’t.
A few weeks later, the film came back from Kodak and there on frame 27, the last pic I took when I was knocked to the ground by the racket was the image above.
I know what happened to Keith but no one is gonna believe me.
And there is Kudzu growing all around my house in Phoenix.
Thanks to my real life bud Keith Taylor for being the man in the Kudzu. He is very much alive and a great photographer. Check his stuff out.
My Deardorff is still one my favorite cameras. Starting to shoot Tintype with it, but it is a bit slow going. I don’t have the time I need to devote to the learning curve of tintype exposure.
I shoot some black and white with it as well, and will be taking a box of Ilford with me to Santa Cruz later this week.
These days, like many photographers, digital is the first medium… it is far less expensive and it is very fast. We like that, and with the way the pace of today is going, fast is necessary.
These cameras are not fast. These large format cameras are slow and deliberate, like many things that have not changed with the times. From a 350MM lens with the fastest shutter speed of 1/50th to a maximum aperture of f-8, this big ol’ wooden camera demands careful, and measured engagement.
The day this camera came into my studio was a turning point in my photography. I think I needed this thing to slow myself down and really learn what I was doing. The studio was rocking and we were shooting nearly every day. From JC Penny to Diamonds to products from a half dozen companies, the pace was fast – and getting faster.
We were pumping out shoots at a rate that was nearly dizzying. The cameras were 35MM for fashion and 6×7 for fashion and corporate. A lot of 4×5 for product, and the amount of Polaroid we burned through was staggering.
I wanted to slow down on my personal projects and when I saw this beautiful old camera, I simply couldn’t resist.
The style of Deardorff is a flat bed camera that folds in on itself and becomes a very compact unit. However, that design also means that the back tilt is on the base instead of on the axis.
And that is a big change from rail cameras which are mainly tilted from the axis of the film. On axis swing and tilt means that the film does not change distance from the lens.
But when you tilt from the base, even the slightest change means the film is no longer in the focus plane… and reaching around to the front of that lens to tilt it a bit more or less was an adventure.
The lens is a 14 inch lens (350mm) which means it focuses at infinity when it is 14 inches from the film plane. In other words, the smallest this camera could be was 14 inches long. Focusing down to tighter and closer compositions means pulling the bellows out… sometimes way out. It was common to have the lens 24-30″ from the back… and that takes a long reach.
It was pretty beat up when I got it. It had a “working stiff” look to it. A real down to earth show up and ger er done kinda camera. I put some more dings and scratches on it for the next ten years.
One day I refurbished it a bit. Not too much, just enough to keep the look of the classic workhorse, but smoothed out some of the more egregious scratches and marks.
The thing about this camera was it took some effort to shoot it. A lot of effort actually.
The lens, a 350MM lens, is the same focal length on your 35MM… a 350. And when it is focused on something 10 feet away, even at f-8 it has the same DOF that your 350MM on a 35Mm has.
Not too much!
Depth of Field issues were also compounded by the shutter speed / aperture. This camera had to be shut down to small apertures to get even a modicum of DOF and that meant slow shutter speeds.
I mentioned that it is a deliberate camera to use, didn’t I?
Now we add in “Bellows Draw” which is the same as the Inverse Square Law in that the farther the lens is from the film, the more time you must give it for compensation. The light of the lens moves farther away from the back of the camera, and the ISL kicks in.
The lens is a 14″ lens. At 28″ it is twice the distance from the back… and two stops are added to the exposure.
Exposures of f-8 at 1/10 or 1/25 in full sun was not unfamiliar.
Oh, and I should mention that the image is backwards AND upside down. At the same time. Backwards and upside down.
This makes one slow down, take deep breaths, move gently and with consideration when composing. I would spend quite a bit of time under the dark cloth making sure the field of focus was exactly what I wanted. I would stop it down waiting for my eyes to get accustomed to the dark to check the DOF and focus.
With loupe to eye, there was such an amazing amount of detail to be looked at on the ground glass.
I think it somewhat Zen like when using this camera.
The images are so unique – think a normal lens shot at f2 for most subjects. And in close, the lens would simply devastate the DOF of almost any image.
Loved doing portraits on it. Getting the eyes in focus meant that the ears and tip of the nose weren’t.
As I got better at shooting the 8×10, my other work improved as well. Spend a weekend with this thing and when you come back the eye is sharp and the composition comes faster.
The big camera became a partner in the old days, and now we just hang at the studio together listening to Coltrane and kickin’ back.
I miss shooting with this behemoth, and hope to get the tin type thing down this summer so I can take it on a road trip to shoot portraits up north.
(NOTE: All images taken with my Android phone)