Choosing a photographer
Vintage Photo Books

you are at : [Photography is not a is a craft!]

And one retired photographer added a comment "with some it is not a craft but a crime"

Ivan Writes....

In my forty years involved at an intense level of professional photography it is with much disappointment that I find it hard to advise anyone to enter this craft except in circumstances that I will list below.

It is a sad fact that as technology has made photography simpler with better cameras, better films, better processing and now digital where you can see if you like the photo and if not keep taking them till you get them right. So accompanying this dummying down of photography has also come the dummying down of the respect of the people practicing the craft.

Around the turn of the centenary thro to about 1950 photographers wore suits often had a professional training in chemistry, the arts or a long apprenticeship with a true craftsman before they were able to start a business or buy a existing one. Those were the formal years where if you were in business you dressed like the other top business people. You were considered a pillar of the community and were respected.

Today with the cameras being able to auto focus, auto exposure, more and more people are taking the photographs they need themselves. Company's see the advertising budget get larger each year and often resort to using a delighted staff member for the required photography, or with the volume of commercial photographers out there play one off against the other to get the lowest prices possible and why not they will say, by the way they dress they do not need much money, or anyone can click a camera it is just easier to get "Half Exposure" to do the snaps, he is grateful for anything we thro his way and we can always beat him down when the final bill comes in IF he want any more work from us.

It all started with the misguided concept that "because they are artists" the normal rules of dress did not apply to them. So business people started treating them as artists and not business people as they had formally and treating them, now as artists normal rules of business do not apply. This is where to total lack of respect for 90% of the commercial photographers started appearing.

And photographers fostered it, if they wanted to "Break into a city" they did it by price, and then the clothes they wore because they were artists became the only clothes they could afford.

So photographer "old time" is undercut by "New Boy" new boy get the job, the a newer boy comes along and undercuts new boy and so the downward spiral has begun, soon the photography is being done at just above cost, and there is always plenty of photographers prepared to do it at that price to get established.

Then they start cutting format size and processing labs, soon the photography is rubbish and it is not noticed until one day someone pulls out one of old time's photos and see the difference so he get the next job, if he is still in business!

Then there is the Rat pack of the news photographers, how can you respect any of those people that hold a camera.

Hollywood have portrayed some of the worse dressed photographers they can make and then there is the TV camerapeople who attend a gala performance with every one in evening dress and they come dressed as garbage men on vacation (apologies to the garbage men), or the slob that is booked for a formal wedding attending in shorts and a t-shirt because it is hot.

NONE of these things enhance the image of photographers now they are accepted and treated exactly the way they are dressed.

Now with this, if they do not dress like success or as if they have money how does the client gladly make out a cheque for $10,000 for a job when you suspect that is the amountv of money that he has lived off for the last two years, by the way he dresses, they take one look at the account and say do your sums again and again till you come up with half of that, I can get a REAL professional for that sort of money.

Now in every community around the world if they are lucky there will be one Pro that has respect because of the way in which he does business, but they are getting harder and harder to find.

Now everyone is a photographer and none of the Pro can afford advertising and have moved home the public have lost the concept of what good photography looks like and the only way they can tell the difference is by price. So the phone around and compare price and then perhaps look at high, med and low price and because they are not shown the difference invariably Mr. low price, who is a plumber during the week get the job because he supplies twice as many prints as any one else.

So slowly as the full time photographers in studios retire their places are by people operating out of their Garage or bedroom, with another job to make ends meet.

Now this is the small to average town through the world, big city's on the other hand have twice as many per head of population of the price merchants, but fortunately there are enough real large company's in these city's to keep the experts in work.

Now none of above applies to you if you marry money, inherit money, get given money by parents, then you can do the photography you wish, mount elaborate Exhibitions in the grand places, move among their rich friends and soon they will have bought themselves a level of respect which is more for the money that their ability.
…..unfortunately the 90% of the rest in the craft barely make a living, at around the basic wage when you work out their hourly rate for the hours they work!

….but you say there are people making it to the top, yes every week there are people winning a lottery with about the same frequency!

There are far too many people in the business, and far too many new people taking places in schools who will not be able to make basic wages from the craft they have trained at for many years.

The business is not such that you can say if you are an average accountant you will bring home at least $X. With as many hours required to train as a photographer as a accountant all one can say about a photographer that 90% of you should do not count on earning enough money to retire from your craft, unless you are one of the good photographers like Stuart Riddell who writes his comments in the next column!

Stuart Riddell of Auckland, New Zealand, who is probably the most successful Portrait Photographer I have EVER met, wrote when I showed him the essay on the left, wrote the following….

What you have written is good. I guess I just don't buy into that thinking but rather rise above it. I can't ignore it and to most people it is totally relevant. I must always keep my eyes open and look and observe. In doing that I must be aware of what is working well in my business, look for new and relevant opportunities and not only be prepared to make changes, but make sure I will enjoy them. Most of the changes I make are exciting changes and the people all around me get excited with them and buy into them too.

People everywhere have a lot more choices today as to what they do or how they spend their money. It is not just photography that suffers with this problem. I think that to be successful, people need to have a far more rounded skill set, and one of the very important skills is the ability to ask "how would I like to be treated?" Photographers or any people in business can get too bound up in a few areas of how good they are or how good they look, but it is not a single thing that will make the difference, it's the whole package.

It's not just one type of dress that people will measure you by, in fact it's not necessarily dress at all - I think a much more important observation is people seeing your ability in the supposedly unrelated areas (that they can relate to and measure), as being nothing short of excellence and pretty close to perfection. For example: outstanding tea or coffee service and presentation, your gardens, your entrance, the way you are treated when you walk in. What if you are greeted at the door and the door is opened for you, aren't we saying "We are expecting you. You are important to us". In all of these areas people are able to measure and compare with what else they see in the general market place, then they make assumptions about the other things in our business that they don't have the skills to measure, things that are specific to the profession, craft or trade. In the case of photography, potential clients typically don't have the skills to confidently measure and judge aspects like lighting, composition, balance, communication and believability. They can probably manage expression.

To be successful in business now I think you need to be very good in a lot of areas and a passion for at least one area. I think you need to be able to step back and analyse, the what, and why out of things.

If you haven't already seen it, watch a video called; "Towards Awesome Service" -it had a big impact on me 10-12 years ago and still does.


Stuart Riddell is not your ordinary photographer, Stuart obtained his MBA and his degree in engineering before he entered the craft of photography.

Stuart then preceded to spend the next 10 years learning the craft of photography by studying under the best master photographers in the world, applying those techniques within his business until his standard of photography when I last reviewed it in 2004 was as good as I've seen anywhere in the world. I look upon Stuart as one of the modern master photographers who has built a successful business through his skills as a exceptional photographer, an engineer (logical thinking) and his MBA and has developed an outstanding marketing and selling technique almost unique in the world.

Stuart is a businessman who once told me that to remain in photography he had to be able to make as much money as he could as an engineer. I found no fault in that decision, fortunately there are no laws yet in this country that limits the reward for above ordinary ability and I applaud him for combining the skills of marketing, good photography, incredibly good modern retouching services, and of course having the skill to sell the product. Selling is not a dirty word, nothing happens in this world until something is sold. No jobs are created until something is sold.

Today Stuart has not relaxed after all of this business success, but continues to travel to the top photographic conventions around the world looking for new techniques to incorporate within his business, and is forever looking at new things to offer his clients so that they remain the best serviced photographic clients in the southern hemisphere.

Ivan P.W. McLellan Hon FNZPPA