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.