Yes, You Can Trust Your Professional Photographer (Essay Nine)

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?

I see.

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.”

Uh… no.

“Typically, neophyte professional photographers go to these events not to learn, but to capture images for use in their own portfolios.”

Uh… no.

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.


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?

Not me.

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.


Does Vison Trump Gear? (Essay Eight)

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.

Or not.

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.