Saturday, June 26, 2010

Photography, should it be a competition?

I have not been too happy lately. Photography is getting easier. Cameras are getting cleverer. Professional fees are getting lower. Well, some are still charging their clients exorbitantly but at the same time, there are also clients and friends who spreads the word that, "It's not worth it!". So, I guess the consequence will show in the next few years.

Now, as a professional, I should get worried, BUT I'm not. That's probably I am not too money-motivated like the rest anyway. I can live with the minimum and I like to live with the minimum. I do have my shopping sprees at times, from miniature cameras to large format cameras, film to digital, BUT when I get sick of having too many, I start selling them one by one or even in batches! Some say I am crazy. LOL... Or simply put, "I don't care!"


Many treat it as a way to mask themselves. Show some arty-farty looking images to others and maybe you'll be given a chance to be looked upon as an Artist with a Big "A". "Oh, please don't show anything too ordinary, people look at your snapshots and they may just despise you!"... that rings in our mind constantly. "We've gotta be really stringent with ourselves. Show an image of your garden and people might just discredit you totally as an artist."... we thought.

And so, we only show that one out of a hundred. And we shoot all the MORE with our digital, in hope that we can achieve more shots that are "worthy" to be shown around. There goes our confidence and skills! Digital rots... not just our digital cameras' re-sale value rot BUT our skills rot too! We become so reliant on "Chance Shots" or "Experimental Shots" to prove ourselves. We shoot thousands, hopefully we can get that few shots worthy of an award.

Hey! Is photography really ART? Are we trying too hard?

Whenever you look through your viewfinder before each shot, are you 100% indulged in the scene and truly enjoying each click of the shutter without worrying if the shot will get approved by others OR are you always trying to achieve "that" shot which others have somehow implanted in your mind as "the way to do it to get approved"?     

No wonder almost all the wedding images I see in facebook nowadays where all the wedding photographers congregate looks similar! Each is trying to get approved by the other. Silly, isn't it?

There's a place for copying to learn. BUT that should NEVER be the constant activity in our life. If that's all we do most of our time, we have basically become photocopiers.

How can photography be like a race, a competition, when there's no finishing line? It's not like you can score 0.2sec faster and break a previous record?!

Shouldn't we all be a little bit more confident in our individuality and enjoy photography as individuals instead of trying to be someone else?

Some photographs may look mundane, ordinary and common, BUT they could bear significant meaning and value that could never be judged or measured. There's also no necessity for judgment.

A photographer can never be the same as a painter. We are largely technologically-dependent and influenced. The ONE precious thing which the camera can do is to "still fleeting moments"! And that skill depends on the individual's eye and fluency in using his instrument, in which we can't deny modern cameras today are already doing most of the job for us.

So, before we think too highly of ourselves as artists, maybe we should just calm down a little, and admit that there are many individuals out there becoming "great artists" in less than a year. I think we hardly encounter talented painters of this sort do we? We can't deny photography is actually not too difficult, can we?

Bottom line (before I sidetrack too far): 
1. It's definitely not difficult to copy others' works
2. Photography is definitely much easier than painting
3. Photography is not just arts but it's also Mainly for documentary purposes 
4. It's definitely HARD to develop our individual style especially when we are surrounded by "copycats" and "copying" has already sort of become "the subconscious culture".
5. It seems that few can really shoot FREELY without thinking of making money out of it (there are definitely more mercenary photographers than painters out there except China)
6. And when money becomes the motivational factor, we begin to shoot like the ones who have been making "the money", and we lost ourselves.
7. We should NOT be afraid of our works being copied even though it will surely happen if you are good at it. That's just too narrow-minded to think that our works are original and others' are not. It's the clearest sign of "Insecurity" due to the lack of confidence.

Here is an article I found some time ago which resonates what I feel. To read, CLICK HERE!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Mental & Emotional Imbalance of Earning Photographers

Feel frustrated looking at this picture? Yes, that's exactly how I am feeling right now.

I am going to touch on the "imbalance" I find in myself and in many photographers around me through my years as a photographer in this post. Before you jump at me, I will have to say it again, I have this same "imbalance" in me from time to time, which I have to consciously remind myself to get over it.

Ok, straight to the point, the imbalance is in what we "WANT" and what we "ARE WILLING TO PAY FOR" when it comes to buying camera equipments versus printing a photograph. 

Traditionally, there is a school of thought believing that as a true artist, one should take charge from the pressing of the trigger to printing his own prints. Now, having full control is perfect for an artist, but that also means half or more of your time will be spent in the darkroom instead of out there shooting. Ansel Adams believed in having full control but NOT Henri Cartier Bresson. As for me, my mood swings all the time, so there are times I prefer to do it myself, and there are times I'd rather be out there shooting and let a reliable lab does it for me. But the bottom line is about "The Perfection All Artists Wanna Achieve", each in different way.

What I am FRUSTRATED about is actually the common reaction we have, when it comes to printing and presentation of our pictures. Imagine being among a group of photographers at a coffee table discussing where to get the cheapest 8R print and where to buy the cheapest photo album. You practically can see strained necklines and frowned foreheads, with persistent questions on whether the 8R print which costs only RM3 from a mass-production lab will actually be as good as a 8R print which cost RM5 printed by a proven professional lab. Then, the discussion will go on to compare the photo album price difference of RM30-50, when the "Slightly More Expensive" photo album has an obvious edge on quality, finishing and durability. You probably would see that same troubled look on the face of a gambler with only one last chip to bet on his table, as if saving RM30 for an album (in this case of obvious quality difference) is gonna make a significant difference in his wedding photography career.  Is this THE kind of pride we have in our own works? Or is photography just another money-making job no different from being a taxi driver?

Ironically, when it comes to discussing whether to buy that mint used Canon EF24mm F1.4L mark2 lens lying attractively on that glass shelf in a particular shop, eyes hardly even blink at the price tag of RM5700. "It costs RM6500 NEW. Let's go get it!" 

We actually scrimp on the final presentation of our works: our prints which actually represent us! Our prints either justifies our efforts or spoil it altogether.

We metaphysically believe strongly that the "BEST" equipment (usually the most expensive) shall make us BETTER photographers. But, we are so undecided when it comes to printing our works. We expect Top Quality Fine Art Print at a dirt cheap price. And then we present our hard work, shot with say, a Canon 5Dmk2 with a EF35mm F1.4L lens, by printing on a cheap 3 dollars 8R print from a mass-production lab, and further present it in a cheap China-made RM120 album. That's how we treat ourselves and our hard work.

Where's the balance we should all come to terms with as both a photographic artist and a businessman? I've struggled for years to know.

All I know now, after more than 10 years in the industry is:

1. There's no such thing as Top Gear makes Top Photographer. Totally unrelated. Photographic vision is within you, waiting for you to discover and grow it.

2. Scrimping on our finished products ONLY spoils all our hard work from pre-visualizing to pressing the trigger and to post-processing our pictures in the computer.

I feel so embarrassed about this IMBALANCE which is common among working wedding photographers including myself, when many of us spend so much effort to dig for the cheapest prints and the cheapest albums. We do it all in order to increase our profit margin, just so we can buy our next "top gear"?

We often think (when it comes to prints and albums), there are many things that clients can't differentiate the difference, only we can. Yet, we worry if the 50mm F1.4 lens has actually a better bokeh rendered than the 50mm F1.8 lens for example. I find this hilarious.  It's only F0.4 difference.

It all boils down to how proud you are about your own works! That's what I think. If we are comparing the difference of RM10-100, which is far different from comparing the price of Leica versus Canon, I would say, why risk it? Prints and albums after all are the proven best promotional material for our hard work, and prints are the only way to justify our works in terms of sharpness, color, contrast, shades and tones! There's no way anybody could spoil your name by saying your works have exposure errors or color casts when their own computer screens aren't calibrated for example. 


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Photographers, Are We Delusional?

Here I am, taking myself as an example, what I personally have gone through as a lesson, looking strictly deep into my own heart with a microscope, and doing my best not to hide a single bit of the struggles I went through as a photographer and as a human being.  

I am in no position here to judge others. For the previously offended, if you still think I am referring to you in my blog (some people are just over-sensitive), what I can say is I am referring to myself and what I experienced. It's entirely personal. All that offense was totally unnecessary in your own imagination.

I use "we" in many of my following paragraphs, not necessarily meaning that I did some of those things, but I prefer to look at the current wedding industry from the inside as a wedding photographer and not from the outside as a spectator. In no way am I claiming to represent the wedding industry in Malaysia but I am speaking as a "once-active wedding photographer".

1. Photography as a Passion.
To some, photography is but a part time hobby, a 2-hour relaxation on a Sunday, but to me, it's my daily expressive tool. I shoot when I am happy and unhappy. Thinking that since this is but one of the very few things I do persist in doing, I turned it into a career in year 2000, thinking that I can live out the dream of doing what I love. After 10 years, I found this to be NOT totally true or achievable.

2. Passion-killing.
As years go down the road, I realized that I am but shooting repeated weddings, repeated poses, repeated ceremonies, repeated hotels, repeated wedding favors, candles, etc.
Money seemed to be "the passion" instead of real photography. No doubt, I never failed to deliver, my standards in photography has all along been consistent (though clients are not all that consistent). You get that 1 in a 100 "never-be-able-to-please" client sometimes. At one point, I even got slandered on the internet with a false story saying I didn't turn up for a wedding by 3 fictitious names. (click HERE)
Yes, I have to admit that I can be quite assertive with my clients at times when it comes to last minute cancellations but expecting full refunds back. So, there I suffered for my assertiveness.

3. Photography Getting Real Easy!
As competition gets keen in the industry, thanks to all the camera manufacturers for making professional cameras so affordable and professional results so achievable, MONEY began to rule the industry and many photographers' greedy minds. Almost everyone who picked up a DSLR wants to be a wedding photographer!

4. The "High-Price" Delusion.
We all start to equate our level of skills with how high we can charge our clients. Since when that is even remotely related?
An artist can paint a priceless painting and refuse to sell it at any price. But here we are, allowing money to measure our skills. We boast of our price lists to fellow competitors in order to show off our superiority. But when we come to negotiating with actual clients, our prices can "secretly" go dirt cheap, just so we can get the job from another photographer. Don't forget, some clients do feedback of what they experienced.

5. Fame Chase.
We do all sorts of publicity stunts no matter what it takes to make ourselves famous, thinking that we can charge higher if we grow in fame. All that fame from day one is NEVER EARNED but ONLY BOUGHT with money $$$.

We (I almost but never did) joined meaningless mercenary international photography associations. These associations claimed to share knowledge and bring up international standards of photography but in actual fact are nothing more than just money-making agencies. They accept any tom, dick and harry in less than 24 hours after they received your application, requesting for online payment, even though the website claimed that they will take up to 90 days to review your portfolio.

The OBVIOUS issue in these associations is that you get the "one-day-old photographers" all mixed up with the 10-year-old ones. Congrats!

It gets even more complex when the new photographers start winning awards together with the veterans. In digital photography, you can easily shoot thousands on motordrive and pick a few lucky shots to win. With the latest Photoshop and other editing softwares, editing images are just a few clicks away. The public has come to a point in which they already can't differentiate WHO are the real reliable photographers with proven track records and consistent delivery in such confusion! 

What a way to bring international standards of photography into the local industry! (which they claimed) It's more like messing everything up.

Then came the "wind of wedding destination photography" sweeping across the nation with hundreds of wannabes volunteering to shoot for free as long as they get to travel.
All these are done with the already existing examples set by some "pioneers" who started that ball rolling not too long ago. Words get around that here's the only way to gain some overseas portfolio - shoot for free but keep quiet! (yet, words still spread, cause the couples aren't keeping quiet).

Everyone seems to become some sort of a destination wedding photographer over night until someone gets caught recently at the Australian Immigration Checkpoint and gets penalized for breaching their commercial trade law. Calls swarmed in within 24 hours from fellow photographers in the industry NOT to ask about the well being of that photographer BUT to ask about the "future" of destination wedding photography in Australia. This is how caring we have become! We have lost humanity.

Have we all gone crazy seeking Fame and Fortune?

In the midst of seeking Fame and Fortune, some even steal portfolios from others using "innovative methods" like partnering for shoots with more senior photographers then secretly steal the ropes instead of honestly learning the hard way. It's common that they group the shots from the senior photographer/s with their own works and present them together as a disguise to the general public! Individual credits are often NOT given. 

If you are proud of your own works, you will be adamant about crediting individual photographer accordingly, and NOT give the chance for others to assume "certain" good works are done by you when it's NOT.

Some even daringly steal from facebook where the photographers all group together in the name of sharing knowledge. (the chance to copy and steal ideas more like it).

Well, I received my fair share back in year 2003 when facebook weren't even existent, from the now co-founder of the AWP (Association of the Wedding Professionals Malaysia), owner of Nupts and Such, Eileen Lui, who used all my then pre-wedding images of one couple all over her starting website and even appeared centre-spread full page in national newspapers: The Star. AWP actually has remarkable code of ethics written in their website they swear by, how ironic? Is she apologetic? Not at all, till today.

5.Take Pride in our Own Works!
Are we confident about our own works, our own worth and our own existence in the society? Do we all need to get so hard up for such recognition, such fame in the shortest time?

6. Individuality, we've lost it!
Have we all lost our individual vision which we once were so sure we got it, that we now have to constantly look up to others, especially to those who charged an exorbitant sum for shooting weddings? Do they really have the vision we don't? Learning photography techniques is one thing but learning photographic vision and understanding your own personal vision in your life is another. Photography is NOT just about new gimmicks.
7. True Honesty.
Have we for once been truly honest to ourselves about what we truly want, what we truly are capable of and what we truly aren't capable of? There are some things in life we need to admit that we just don't have the talent for, that our talent actually lies somewhere else, that we will be wasting time struggling in it if we still refuse to admit it.

8. Listen to Your Inner Self.
There is such a sanctity between you and God, between you and your inner self (for those who don't believe in God) which no man and nothing on earth can absolutely come in-between. For the Christians, it's not just the earth, but heaven and hell as well. Close your doors, be by yourself and start listening to your own heartbeat. I can barely teach you how. I am saying, "Be honest to yourself, at least for once, and stop lying."

9. The Stubborn Delusionals.
Still, some of you might already be so delusional that no amount of words can help, that having uttered so many lies to yourself for so long that all just seems to become real... ... then what I wrote is not for you. Oh, do I need to remind you that this blog is but my own writings written to myself and also to those who can identify with me, which are the rare breed. (Yes, I never considered myself "normal")

Lastly, I don't need to claim to be someone else. I don't need to be famous. I just need to be myself. How about you?