Are All Photographers The Same?

As more and more photographers are entering the market place, it is confusing as a consumer to wade through them all… Do you go by price, experience, eye?  And who’s to say that any of that will find the RIGHT photographer for you?!
This is a blog post by photographer Ajaton Joki…it has been kept in its entirety. I hope that her words are able to help you to make a more informed decision when searching for the right photographer for YOU!
Are All Photographers the Same?
June 17, 2010
A question I am asked frequently is why photographers charge what they do. There is such a discrepancy in prices – and those shopping purely on price alone are nearly always going to go the least expensive route. But is that the wisest decision?
One phrase I hear a lot is, “it only costs 10c to make a print – so why do you charge so much?” And if the value of the image was only the print paper cost itself, that would be a valid question. But then again, a lawyer makes several thousands and all they produce is paper worth less then a penny. So why do we pay lawyers upwards of 100 euros an hour? The easy answer is that an experienced photographer – one who has spent years studying the craft, honing skills, and perfecting style, is going to give you a much better image than the beginner who is simply clicking a shutter button. If clicking the shutter is the only parameter of a professional photographer, I’d like to offer the services of my 7 year old – she takes great pictures (everyone says so!) and I’m happy to hire her out for $200 for a disk of images. She’ll be happy too – she’d love a new Lego Star Wars set. But why pay $200 for my 7 year old (or a beginner photographer) when you can just have the grandparents click the button instead – and for free?
I could make this post longer by summing out costs of being a photographer: VAT/taxes, insurance, business development costs, time, software, equipment, the desire to not work for free for other people……. but really, I would think that most would recognize there are obvious costs behind owning any business. Would you really feel you were saving money if you hired a lawyer who had no formal training or education but who felt they would be good at winning lawsuits because they saw someone do it on TV?
The parallel is true since many photographers are encouraged by friends and family (would you tell your best friend that the image she shot and is so proud of has a kid in dappled light and a telephone pole sticking out of his head with a white balance so off that he is practically blue?). Similarly, many photographers are not licensed business owners – so if you get charged for poor portraits, you have no recourse. I would love to charge less – and certainly my photography business isn’t going to buy me a Lexus. But at the same time, it is frustrating to be legal, pay taxes, and yet lose customers to those operating illegally. Truly: professional images comprise a lot of factors – otherwise, why would you hire someone to photograph your children if you could just do it yourself? Composition, metering, focus, white balance, skin tones, light in the eyes, pose, post processing….. these are skills that take time to develop. And the difference in quality should be fairly obvious if you compare portfolios.
Which always leads to the next question: “It’s just the camera, right?” And that one hit kind of home for me. One day last year, my sister told me she wanted to take images of her family and have them be as good as mine – so she asked which DSLR she should buy. I answered her honestly: unless you are going to shoot in manual modes (not auto) and learn ISO, F-stop, Shutter speed, spot metering, etc, she could spend thousands and thousands and not have as good images. Good images are about using the equipment and reading the light correctly – neither of which can be obtained in AUTO by clicking a button. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and spend thousands. But also be prepared to admit that it’s not the camera, it is the artist BEHIND the lens, that is making the creative and beautiful portraits. And as for my sister? She bought a prosumer and not a DSLR and has been very happy since. And saved quite a bit of money in the process. It really isn’t about the camera. When the light is read correctly, the right F-Stop is chosen, and sound post processing is applied, there is still the composition issue.
One thing I really find interesting is that people will buy Coach purses, fancy flatscreen TVs, expensive toys and sets for their children, and all manner of luxury goods that have maybe a 1-2 year lifespan. But when it comes to professional portraits, which will last a lifetime, they base the decision purely on price. I’m not sure at what point children and family become less important than a fancy purse. But I can tell you that those who purchased high quality portraits have a beautiful reminder of a time that has past – and those portraits are still hanging or displayed while the purse has long since been thrown away. Sure, parents can choose to purchase inexpensive photography based solely on price. Not everyone can afford the price of a good photographer and the compromise often is quality. But I truly hope and encourage buyers to really consider what they are buying and why – and not to choose solely on price. Your memories do not have a price tag and once this moment is gone, you forever lose the chance to have hired a true professional to beautifully capture your family.
Choosing the best you can afford will always be the best advice given to anyone looking for quality professional portraits. As with anything hand-made and requiring an artistic eye, those who produce quality work often charge more – it compensates for the amount of time they have spent learning and perfecting their art. Choose not based on price – but on how the photographer expresses themselves – and how that will translate into your family’s portrait work. Choosing based solely on price is saying that all photographers are the same – and that really isn’t true. Sure, price may not always reflect skill. That’s where a buyer’s judgment and comparison of portfolios come in. But it is a good bet that a lot of the cheaper photographers will disappear in a year as they realize they are actually losing money and working for nearly free. And that is also a concern because they may not have an interest in protecting or archiving your photos.

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