If you are a photographer, you know that you have chosen to participate in a very competitive marketplace. Not only do you have other well-trained and highly experience photographers to compete against, there is also a seemingly endless group of people with cameras who sell their services not to make a living, but as a hobby, or a way to make a little extra cash or just because they enjoy it. There is an old saying that asks why would you buy the cow, if you can get the milk for free? While I don’t liken myself (or anyone else for that matter) to a member of the various species commonly known as livestock, I can’t help but see how that comparison applies very much to the life of a working, professional photographer in 2018.
It’s not a new comparison; for as long as there have been consumer cameras, there have been those who could see no reason to pay a professional photographer for what uncle Bob/ aunt Martha or various sons, daughters, nieces or nephews could do “just as well” for cheap or free. It was, however, the explosion of the digital age that pushed the situation from being a simple annoyance to more of a fight for survival. It is a constant struggle to explain to potential clients why you provide a quote of $3,000 for their wedding photos when someone else offered to do it for $500 and give them everything on a memory stick to do with as they please. It’s a lot of work, and it can be frustrating, but it goes with the territory. “I’m better because I say so,” just won’t cut it. Break down the numbers and the difference is clear to see.
Your work has greater value because…
It’s a concept that may seem foreign in a world of built-in obsolescence, but the carefully-crafted work of a professional photographer will stand the test of time. Archival inks on archival quality canvas or photo paper can easily last 100 years. The images you capture can become a family treasure, handed down from one generation to another. Can the photographer who just hands over a memory stick of images say the same? Will the client who took the lowest-bid approach to their wedding photography take the same approach when choosing where to have them printed?
You have better training, more experience and support
You take pride in what you do, and you should because you’ve put an awful lot of work into it. Think of the hours spent in the classroom or studio, the hours spent watching video explaining how to use a specific technique in order to provide your client with an image that is like nothing they have ever seen before. Think about all the seminars, workshops, and conferences, not to mention the training you access as a member of a professional association. Combine that with the experience you have gained along the way as well as the mutual support provided by the people you share a common goal with. Does the hobbyist/part-tiime photographer have anything that compares to that?
The equipment to do the job
It’s true that it is the person holding the camera that makes the difference, but there is no disputing that having the right equipment for the job does lead to a better result. While the part-timer is still working with an entry level camera and a kit lens, you have invested in camera bodies that are weather sealed, can shoot upwards of nine frames per second and provide the ability to shoot in low-light situations and capture extremely large RAW files with exceptional dynamic range. You also have access to lighting equipment that can turn night into day and possibly even battle the sun into submission (at least for a few minutes.) You can put the light where you want it, not just accept that it is what it is. Does the part-timer only shoot existing light photos because they choose to, or because they don’t have the ability the equipment to do otherwise?
Are part-time photographers ‘bad” ?
Absolutely not, in my mind anyone with a love of photography is headed in the right direction, and many are quite talented, I just wish they would value what they do a bit more, and try to improve while understanding the limits they face in terms of skill, ability and equipment. If they want to improve, then they should be willing to seek (and we should be willing to offer) an opportunity to work with a professional photographer as an assistant or second shooter.You need that support to learn and to grow as a photographer. A great deal of what we do goes far beyond the camera. A willingness to work together would benefit the professional, the part-timer and the consumer, and make the job of educating the public a whole, lot easier.