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An Open Letter To "Photographers"  &Thoughtful Consideration for the Inquiring Majority:

IF you "spray and pray", please stop. Please stop shooting thousands of images in one day, picking the very best few, and calling yourself a professional photographer. Instead, put a roll of Portra in your camera, head out to your paid gig, and perform to the standard you claim to hold. Once you brave that fire and succeed, you may then call yourself a professional.

This letter will likely ruffle your feathers if you haven’t ever shot film. It will also unnerve those that “spray and pray” to get “the” shot. It will cause some to thumb their nose at me directly. Calling into question my ability to call myself a professional. To those few, I say, let’s dance. Show me your best work, and show me the original file. Until then, I say to those still interested, beautiful photography is but a few paragraphs away. Please, read on.

Advancements in technology have been both a blessing and a damnation to photographic artists. On the one hand new technology allows for greater self expression by providing new tools to the masterful creative minded artists out there. This enhances humanity because it allows for artists to create almost without limits. However, this same technology, in the hands of the novice, can lead to a flood of dull, uninspiring work to flood the world. In the end, this numbs the onlooker. Once, art, photography specifically, was gritty, natural, and true. Today, with cellphones in every pocket, each of which producing an equally average image, millions of images uploaded to the web and shared around the world. These images obscure the unique and trivialize the remarkable. In a sense, the singular voice is drowned out by the crowd. We all suffer.

When looking at this more deeply, and more specifically to the field of wedding photography; technology has caused unqualified people to charge brides and grooms for professional services that they would not have been able to do during the age of film.

The prevalence of cameras that produce adequate images, and programs that can fix complete photographic mistakes, has created a market where the customer cannot determine an appropriate charge for service. Technically, an important barrier to entry for novice photographers was price. The price of the camera and lens were important, but the most important price to bear was film and developing. This meant that a photographer photographing a wedding would have to bear the cost of the film and development for ever. Even when the camera and equipment were paid for, the cost of the film and development kept the market in check.

Eventually, an unqualified photographer would not be able to afford the film and processing because they wouldn’t be able to book a wedding with a portfolio that was mediocre. Yet today, after the cost of the camera, lens, and memory card is spent, a novice can click off several thousand images for free. They can display only the very best few of them online for free, and can misrepresent themselves to the client. This is horrible. It’s a terrible disservice. However, it happens day in and day out. I come across photographers who offer thousands of images in their galleries. That’s just outrageous. I was talking with a “pro” the day that told me that he prides himself on the fact that he shoots an average of 8 thousand images on a standard eight-hour wedding. That just baffles my mind. Others talk about gear and equipment like that is the part that matters. but I digress. You wanted to know how to become a better photographer. Now I will tell you.

Photograph slowly. Buy a film camera, an Olympus 35 RC or something similar, and go out and shoot your first roll. Don’t forget to write your settings down. Develop the roll and then compare to your notes. Then do it all again, using your notes, develop, and compare. This practice will teach you something you can’t learn from spraying and praying. It will teach you to read light. It will teach you composition, exposure, and patience. It will give you confidence. This price will be high, the journey long, but it will be worth it.

There is an alternative to the film approach that could be helpful for some. Buy a used Fuji X100 or Xpro1. Both cameras will produce beautiful images, but will also require you to slow down. They both have optical viewfinders, and you can turn off the display on the back and the electronic view finder. It’s about as close you can get to a film experience without film. Following these suggestions with the Fuji will leave you with a camera and a viewfinder. On the camera you will have access to ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. You will also have access to a very good in viewfinder meter with bright view framing lines. This means that you will be able to shoot with the spirit of film on a digital body. Make sure to set your film speed and not change it. You want to learn to consistently read light. If you start changing your ISO you won’t be able to understand the exposure triangle very well. So, as with film, pick a speed and keep it there for 24-36 exposures. When you’re done, import the images and look at them for the first time on your computer. Then ask yourself how you did. Don’t use any automatic mode. If you do, you will invalidate the experience because the camera will be making the choices for you, and this experience is about your ability, not the camera’s.

Whichever method you choose, get out and shoot. Create art, not snapshots. Be proud of only what you create, not what you mistakenly create. It’s true that serendipity is a cruel mistress, but she’s also wise. Only after you understand the mechanics of this art form will she begin to smile on you. Only through practice and consistency will you begin to create art that the world can appreciate. This is our ethos, and this we shall defend.

  • John Mullany

    on February 5, 2017

    Thank you for this post! I lost my job 9 years ago thanks to the iPhone.

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