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.


Print Friendly


  1. Well said. The whole point of licensing is to create barriers to entry thus making the product more expensive. The insiders get rich and everyone else gets screwed.

  2. Fantastic riposte, it’s articles like the former that actually scare promising photographers away from pursuing their goal. I understand that some aren’t ready, but kids reading that with even a flicker of ambition to be a photographer will immediately be put off by those ridiculous horror stories.

    There seems to becoming multiple sides to the photography world at the moment. Rockstar, f1.2 for life, other old timers calling for regulation, and others trying to get a grain of truth through to people (yourself and I’d definitely throw Zack in there)

    Keep it up please, for all our sakes!

  3. Congratulations on a marvelously crafted “corrective essay.” It’s excellently argued, in a completely appropriate tone of righteous anger. “Be angry, but do not sin,” Saint Paul advised, and you’ve done him proud.

    Several commenters on Fong’s post noted various weaknesses in his premise, but this is the most thorough job I’ve seen of deconstructing the story’s entire epistemology: questioning how Fong could actually know what he claims to know. Once that job is done, the entire house of cards falls apart. Bravo!

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful response to a confusing article. His heavy handed solution to prevent the kind of bizarre situation is a little breathtaking. Watch out Chase Jarvis and CreativeLIVE.

  5. Isn’t “Bigtime Photography Guy” the same guy who makes little plastic thingies that are supposed to transform your speed light into a magical light source that makes your all your photos look like they have beautiful studio quality light? I am sure these are not being marketed to aspiring “professional” photographers because I am sure he would not want to take the money of a newbie who might try to use his product to make their photos look above their ability level.

    Gary might want to be careful what he wishes for because if all photographers have to apprentice to become professionals the might learn that his products are worthless and he might have a hard time selling stuff that don’t do anything at all except take money out of peoples pockets.

    • Bingo! Finally somebody said it! I have yet to see a professional photographer using the Dome. And by the way, isnt this the same photog who sold the DVDs “Step by Step guide to Getting Rich as a Photographer”? That doesn’t sound to me very different to the current “evangelists” he criticizes.

  6. It is all well and good to “deconstruct” the story and shoot holes in it to make yourself feel better but the basic premise remains – unqualified and unprofessional photographers who do a poor job reflect on all photographers. This leaves a bad taste in a client’s mouth and leaves other photographers having to clean up after them. It seems any “guy with camera” thinks they can do the job because every camera ad tells them so. While I don’t think it is necessary to “license” someone I do think we need to police our own to insure those representing all photographers are doing so professionally and competently.

    • “It is all well and good to “deconstruct” the story and shoot holes in it to make yourself feel better”

      Really, Bob. You think I wrote it to make MYSELF feel better?

      ” unqualified and unprofessional photographers who do a poor job reflect on all photographers.”

      Tell me what you think would “qualify” someone to make a photograph?

      And then tell me why you think this is a problem only endemic to photographers.

      “It seems any “guy with camera” thinks they can do the job because every camera ad tells them so.”

      Yeah, I know. I have been hearing that crap for 40 years. Same whine, same fear.

      “While I don’t think it is necessary to “license” someone…”

      And yet, Bob, that was the ENTIRE point of the Fong article. Which was my point.

      The complete rarity of this kind of stuff is pointed out in the fact that he had to MAKE IT UP to make a point.

      Yes, there are standards I wish others would adhere to.

      Would you like ME to be that standards-demanding-quality-czar?

      Yeah, we can police our own, but we seem to have a hard time finding anyone ‘real’… and policing our own from fabricated bullshit is not productive.

      But then let’s look at the title of his rant… “Can You Trust Your Professional Photographer?”

      His take is “NO” – resoundingly.

      Mine is “YES” – absolutely… if you hire one that has a fucking clue. Does that mean a rare mishap will NEVER occur? Nope, but relegating the entire industry to this drivel and humiliation is not something I want to be a part of.

      Wrote it for ME to feel good? I don’t shoot weddings… I wrote it to STICK UP for professional photographers everywhere.

      You are welcome.

  7. I have been a hobby photographer for the last 32 years and the rhetoric of the last 4-5 years is discouraging to those who may want to pursue photography simply as a hobby. I am glad that the author took a stand to one of many peddlers of solutions in search of problems in photography. There is a dizzying array of junk that people fall prey to. I continue to be discouraged by those who have a problem with people who want to get into the game are sell their services. My full time job is in a very different industry from pro photography. However, it is worth sharing that the same problems you hear pro’s complaining about the non-pro’s doing has been seen before. Most trades and industries will see their share of this activity Those who come out on top excel at what they do. The crap always sorts itself out in the end. If you are a pro and you have the skills and experience, then you may have to up your game to deal with the challenges that come from cheaper less skilled alternatives competing for your customers. The nasty rhetoric that is prevalent now on the internet needs to stop and the pro’s should set the example through their craft, experience, and their building a better foundation that was around long before digital. I am all for capitalism, but what is going on now it to the detriment of photographers of all walks including someone like me who likes taking pictures of cool stuff that I am interested in. Keep up the fight and drown out the nasty voices.

  8. Hard to believe that the Examiner let this pass as journalism. Between the seemingly obvious embellishment for effect and the correlation/causation issues (one person is stupid, we are all in danger) this should have landed squarely in fiction.

    Any assertion that there is only one way (carrying bags for 2 years) renders Mr. Fongs arguments void. Even in professions with fairly rigid gates – doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc – there are many different schools who teach using different methods and curricula.

    I have always wondered why the responsibility for bad pictures gets laid on photographers alone. This is not plumbing or electrical work where it can look good from the outside but be unsafe. This is not medicine or law where it is reasonable to not understand what is going on. This is a picture, something even a child can judge as good or bad. Sure you can fake a portfolio but anyone who would actually hire a photographer (or any other professional) without checking on them is asking for trouble.

    I also wonder why ANY true professional is worried about having business taken away by a GWC (Guy With Camera) offering low ball prices. In my full time profession I am quite expensive (between $600 and $900 a day with a 90 day minimum if you want to “rent” me from my employer) and despite cheaper alternatives being available, I am in high demand. Why? Because I deliver more than $900 a day in value that less experienced folks cant. Value that two $450 workers cant deliver. I am not only not afraid of being undercut, I spend a significant amount of time mentoring those more junior people so they can eventually deliver the same value. If you are a $3000 a shoot wedding photographer worrying about the $300 craigslist guy you have serious issues. Why are you trying to go after $300 clients and why cant you offer more than $3000 in value?

    I don’t think photographers need any kind of professional gates or gate keepers. Let the market decide who is worth a professional rate and who isn’t. It works for Baseball, Football and Basketball. Why? Because it doesn’t take a degree to know good baseball from 1A. It works for music, art and food. Why? Because I don’t need a certification to tell me an Angus Burger cost less than an Angus Steak. And of course we all love to laugh at the idiots who overpay for “art” just like we love laughing at the idiots who overpay for photos.

    • Well… yeah!

      Great comment… and dead on.

      I don’t spend a moment worrying about other photographers… I worry about meteors colliding with earth. Bigger concern, and just as rare.

  9. As an amateur photog who learned by watching podcasts online, etc. I have the utmost respect for professional photographers. I agree with the points laid out on this site, and disagree with the source post.

    The biggest hurdles are a) Learning how things work, which is arguably more difficult in the digital age, b) “Correct” framing and artistic choices, and c) knowing when to edit/adjust afterwards.

    Notice that none of these are about gear. A great photog will make any camera take good shots. A poor photog will take poor photos with any camera.

    Since photography is largely self-taught, it is not something you can say “education” solves in all cases. Unlike nails, which are specific inputs and outputs.

    Just my $0.02.

    RoundTop. Carrying a Sony A300 DSLR.

    • Thanks, I agree 100%.