There are some that take money that shouldn’t and there are some that don’t that should.
There are many professions that require certifications, licensing, and/or apprenticeships before one can perform services, let alone take money. Photography, in the USA, is not one of them.
There are basically two paths into becoming a professional photographer in the USA. Someone can take courses, get a degree, work as an assistant, work as an intern, and/or get a job where they learn the profession.
Or they can simply buy equipment and manage to take enough in-focus images to be told they should be paid.
Because the damages done by an untrained professional photographer are nowhere near the damage that can be done by an similarly unskilled surgeon or accountant or dentist or lawyer or manicurist or mechanic, there seems to be no need for any oversight. Basically, if someone has a chance of getting an image in focus, they should be allowed to hold themselves out as a professional photographer…just let the buyer beware.
With a perception that “the camera does the work,” why do we need professional photographers anyways?
Because there is so much more to professional photographic services than simply pushing a button!
Just to be clear, when I say “professional,” I’m not talking about percentages of income or whether someone has ever taken a dollar for anything. I’m talking about the ability to operate a photographic service in a professional manner. That is, doing the things necessary to insure consistent results and long-term viability. Offering photographic services shouldn’t be a hit or miss proposition where you keep trying different things until you either figure it out or get a court order telling you that you can’t operate any more. Unless someone is really committed to doing it the right way, all they’re really doing is seeing what they can get away with until they get called out.
Among other things, one needs to
* be able to communicate with clients
* ascertain and completely understand client needs
* offer creative services
* handle and utilize camera equipment, lighting equipment, computers, and software
* execute the client’s vision
* deliver work in a timely manner
* have a defined workflow
* manage archives
* handle paperwork
* handle administrative tasks
* be insured – for everything
* actively pursue professional training
* make efforts to build a long-term, viable business
* understand the mechanics of the business well enough to develop reasonable charges and rates
There are some, maybe even a lot, of situations that require nothing more than someone showing up and taking an in focus image. Sometimes those situations are handled satisfactorily by someone with a decent camera. Sometimes those situations are dis-served because there really was a need for more than just an in focus photo, but no one realized it until it was too late.
Sometimes, the customer knows exactly what they want. Sometimes, though, the customer not only needs assistance defining what they want, they also need a walk-through of what’s involved in their being able to get it, especially when there are a lot of variables and complexities involved. If the photographer can do nothing more than push the button, getting the job is more a matter of luck than skill.
It’s the difference between having a camera that you can point at things and actually knowing what needs to be done. For example, I got a call looking for a rate to cover an event. Almost anyone could have spit out a number and just shown up with their camera…and you can only imagine what they would have gotten. On the other hand, I took them through a conversation that allowed us to get on the same page in terms of what they needed, what they were expecting, and what they could pay. In the end, when they compared what I delivered to what they were used to getting, it was painfully obvious what happens when the photographer can’t do much more than show up with a camera.
Does it matter?
Not if the photographer gets lucky.
It only matters when shots are missed, when the camera doesn’t get the job done, when the job actually requires more than just a camera, when there is no backup equipment, when the post-production is substandard, when the deadline is missed, when the archives are lost, when the photographer can’t be found when needed. Of course things can go wrong for professionals, but odds are that the professional will more likely handle it.
Do we really need professionals?
Only for those situations where we can’t afford the risk of not getting the job done. And that requires there being a ready pool of available talent that can do more than just show up with a camera. That “ready pool” is the industry of professional photography, and the things that undermine that industry put us all at risk for not getting what we need and want. With so many professionals leaving the industry, it is harder to find (and afford) those who can truly get the job done. While every profession has its own horror stories, the buying public has a little more protection when dealing with a regulated industry than an unregulated one.
My saying this isn’t meant to be either sensationalistic or self-serving, turf-protecting hyperbole. It’s the reality of what happens when there are no barriers to entry, either in terms of costs or regulation. I have nothing against anyone wanting to chase their dream; it’s just how they go about it. When they take shortcuts, when they take work away from professionals, when they carry themselves less than professionally, they do damage to the entire industry.
A lot of people think that none of this matters, that “everybody has to start somewhere.” While that’s true, the problem is defining “somewhere.” For most people, “somewhere” is “doing work for free,” and that’s the wrong place. “Somewhere” should be learning about the business, about running a business, about marketing, about workflow, about all the things that go into a successful operation besides pushing the shutter button.
So, what’s the solution? How does one ease into the industry without contributing to its decline?
There are plenty of ways to get experience and to build portfolios, without taking work away from professionals.
There are limitless opportunities to practice and learn, without taking work away from professionals.
There are mind-boggling amounts of resources available to help develop the skills necessary to work professionally.
There are tons of resources for developing business plans and business models and figuring out what best fits an individual’s situation and personality.
The main thing is not to take on work that is beyond one’s reach, in terms of skill, experience, or equipment. I hear the huge whine, “well how do I get experience if I don’t take the work?” Easy: either apprentice for someone or replicate those situations on your own. Developing those skills without risking failure makes the difference between taking on work with absolute confidence, or constantly being in over one’s head.
As for working for free, there is no good reason to get sucked into doing work for a photo credit. There is no value in “getting credit,” unless you already have a plan in place to capitalize on that credit. There are no “credits” given for commercial photography (there may be rare exceptions, but I challenge anyone to flip through a magazine and cite photography credits for non-editorial photography.).
There are some institutions and organizations that deserve pro bono photography services; but, if they’re paying salaries, they should be able to come up with a few bucks here and there to pay for photos. Along the lines of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need,” giving away goods and services should be thought out and justified, rather than being done off the cuff.
The bottom line is quite simple: it undermines the industry when people give away photography that should be paid for. A lot of people scoff at that, especially when they know they’re capable of producing better stuff than the “professionals.” That’s valid, but that also gets back to my points about there being those that shouldn’t take money and the fact that anyone can hold themselves out to be “professional” without having to prove their capabilities. What’s not valid is the assumption that pushing the button is all that matters.
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