Why Another Photographer, pt. II: Two Years Later
A little more than 2 years ago, my wife asked me to make dessert. I told her I would, but she had to leave me alone in the kitchen to make dessert my way. She’s from Tennessee, and she subscribes to that soul-food-throw-everything-in-the-pot-stir-and-add-salt-and-garlic-and-whatever-cumin-is-until-it-tastes-right theory of cooking.
I do not.
So I kicked her out and made a chocolate cake - according to the recipe, because recipes exist for a reason. And it was the best cake that has ever been made. I’ve not stopped baking since then, but I have never topped that cake. It was perfect. And it got me to thinking - what else have I always wanted to try, but been scared to because I was afraid I wouldn’t be as good at it in practice as I was in my head? Photography!
But the cake gave me the courage to reason that if I could bake, I could photograph. So I bought a camera and I started shooting. I look back at those early photos now and I see the progress, which, I suppose, is a good thing! And while many photographers, from what I’ve read, are embarrassed by their early photos - I’m not.
Like this one. This was one of my first sessions, with the beautiful Marissa and Barnabas Brown and their son. Obviously, this photo was taken by someone who didn’t understand some basic photographic concepts, like depth of field. I knew, as soon as I saw it, that it was wrong. Barnabas should be in focus, too. But I didn’t know why he wasn’t. Still, I give myself grace for this shot. You don’t know what you don’t know, and I eventually learned.
Then there’s a shot like this one. I was starting to develop an editing style and a point of view as a photographer. I’d learned the rule of thirds and some basic composition tools, got a better handle on depth of field and how aperture works. But this shot is over-edited, over sharp, and noisy, because it wasn’t quite in focus when I took it. I had to work it over pretty hard to make it presentable, but there are obviously drawbacks to that kind of working. Poor Charles and Aleah got the short end of that stick, but, again, I was still learning! And while I’ll always be learning as a photographer, there are three conclusions that I’ve come to that have changed the way I work.
- Photography is too expensive. It’s an industry that I think has inflated its value because photographers understand that many people view their product as a necessity for a variety of occasions. And while there are certainly no shortage of photographers to choose from, high quality photographers charge quite a premium for their services. In capitalism, they charge what the market will bear, which means they charge what they’re worth. In practice, they charge what they can get away with, and it’s just more than anyone should have to pay.
- Photographers take too long. It’s a travesty how long it takes some photographers to get their photos back to their customers. Granted, not every photographer suffers from this ailment, and lots of photographers have other jobs that require them to edit outside of work, and some photographers are incredibly busy and its easy to fall behind when you’re literally culling through thousands upon thousands of photos every week. That being said, lots of photographers don’t have these problems. They’re just slow because they are, and that’s unacceptable.
- Photography is too focused on the photographers. I get that lots of photographers develop a consistent aesthetic as part of their brand, and I understand how that works in the marketplace. People hire certain photographers because they know exactly what they’ll be getting in advance. Every photo this photographer produces, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, day or dusk, in a forest or in a desert - they all have that same earthy orange glow to them, and that’s what the customer is looking for. But I think photographers should, as a rule, be more versatile. Learn the customer, and what they want out of a photography experience, and endeavor to provide that.
Personally, I like photos with a lot of heavy contrast. I find them dramatic and evocative, and I like for my work to have that gravitas when it can. But nothing about deep blacks, heavy shadows, and a pungent photographic atmosphere says “princess” to me - and that’s what Nikki wanted. Nikki, and her new husband, David, are my most recent clients. And I was so elated every time she saw herself in the mirror in her gorgeous dress and declared, “I’m getting married today, and I look like a princess!” So instead of high contrast, I gave her this:
It took me two years of shooting, editing, making mistakes, studying, adjusting, and doing it all over again to deliver an image like this, that I know Nikki will love, and that represents exactly what she was looking for. And that’s why I do this job. Because I know, as a customer, how good it feels when you hire someone to do an artistic work for you and they deliver on your vision as much as they deliver on their own. And that’s the service I want to provide to everyone I work with, at a reasonable price, and at a reasonable speed.
Here’s some more of my favorite recent work, just for fun. I hope you’ll give me a chance to work with you. I can’t wait.