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Devaluing Professional Photography
What We Can Do to Turn Things Around



As a photographer in the business almost 30 years, it saddens me that professional photography is not held in the high esteem it once was.

Years ago, professional photographers the world over were respected for their artistic ability and technical acumen. Young photographers worked hard to create a high-quality portraiture. Portrait artists like Monte Zucker, Joe Zeltzman, Don Blair, Frank Cricchio, and Tibor Horvath showed all of us how to create exceptional portraits. The care they took in creating a perfect portrait or wedding image was unmatched.

These industry giants influenced a new generation of photographers. David Ziser, Hanson Fong, Jeff Lubin, and others took high-quality wedding and portrait work to another level. These are my mentors, the people I tried to emulate. The quality of their photography not only influenced hundreds of thousands of photographers, but it set the standard consumers demanded. So what happened? When did photography start to lose value in the eyes of consumers? There is no one answer but there are several contributing factors . . .

•The first trend is wedding photojournalism. Let me explain. First of all, real photojournalists get a bad rap. A photojournalist is a reporter with a camera. If you don’t have the luxury of being able to interact with your subject, you must take pictures as the situation presents itself and document everything you can. This makes sense if you are photographing politicians, actors and other celebrities, who may not want to take the time to pose for pictures on a wedding day.

Photographers who cater to this clientele do the best they can with the circumstances presented to them. However, less than 1/100 of 1 percent of the weddings held in the U.S. fit this description. So while not posing brides and grooms is necessary for celebrity weddings, it shouldn’t have become the norm for everyday bridal couples. Wedding photojournalism has not only replaced traditional photography in many instances; it has made high-quality posed photographs undesirable.

• Today’s wedding photojournalist clones take several hundred if not thousands of pictures on the wedding day. I refer to this style as the shotgun approach to wedding photography. Shoot enough pictures and you’re bound to get some good ones. This is not lost on the consumer. That “Uncle Harry” wedding photographer in your neighborhood no longer has to learn proper posing or lighting to be considered a professional wedding photographer. Just take a bunch of pictures and let them all be “natural.”

How can we be respected as professional photographers if anybody can do the same thing we do? You’ll get some great photos once in a while so long as you have a good camera and your finger’s glued to the shutter, but wedding photojournalism looks like wedding photojournalism.

And this problem is limited to the wedding photography market. I recently heard conference speakers say they are shooting 250 to 350 images of high school seniors. Another speaker said he shoots his seniors on location. Let me be the first to coin the phrase “senior photojournalism.” If this trend catches on, studio portraits of high school seniors could become a thing of the past.

• Another example of how professional photography has been devalued is where some photographers are meeting with potential customers: coffee shops. Where is the professionalism in meeting someone in a coffee shop? For years, we’ve worked to create studios and galleries that made a positive first impression when you walked through the door, showcasing the quality of our work. Again, “Uncle Harry” may have no option, but when professionals meet in local coffee shops it further diminishes the value of wedding photography.

• Our profession has been further devalued by the practice of selling hi-res CDs to clients. Don’t get me wrong: for the right price, hi-res files should be available. The problem is that many photographers place hi-res CDs at the bottom of their pricing structure. When clients only receive CDs, they don’t have the heirloom their parents and grandparents had, i.e., a high-quality wedding album.

“Uncle Harry” doesn’t bother with album design and layout; he’s only interested in a quick buck. But I’m dismayed to hear about established photographers doing the same thing. At a high school senior photographers’ convention, a speaker said he was going to offer a hi-res CD of a senior session for only $250. We’re selling out our own profession when we act like this.

It’s time to go back to creating quality portraits, to lighting subjects correctly, to convincing our clients they should receive beautiful wedding albums and framed portraits. From the time you receive that initial phone call, to the consultation in your office, throughout the wedding day, and the delivery of finished wedding albums and framed portraits, it’s all about providing top-notch service.

When customers return to demanding this level of quality and service, “Uncle Harry” will no longer be our problem.

Editor's Note: Viewpoints is a new department created to provide readers with a forum for expressing their views, whether or not they reflect the views of this publication. Have something to get off your chest? Email the editor at alice.miller@cygnusb2b.com

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