PHOTOGRAPHY: Surviving in Sea of Competitors

It’s a very strange thing being a photographer, an industry full of strange people, geniuses much of the time, like Robert Mapplethorpe (if you dig deeper, his work is not for the faint hearted), and there are the odd people who believe they are geniuses when the truly aren’t.

Then you have the preening Lord Flashheart-type, all flash and no (correct) exposure, you can spot them a mile off, charging a ridiculous amount for very, very little. On the flip side, there are those who have done the work, have traveled and suffered for their art, those who continue to produce stunning images time and time again but keep themselves grounded and humble and passionate about their photographic story-telling.

I have known all of these types, having brushed shoulders with them since I became a trainee all those years ago.

And here’s the point.

How are we all surviving?

With the advent of digital photography with it’s instant playback, with the safeguard of that little screen on the back of the camera, we can all advertise ourselves as Professional Photographers, and we can all get away with it.

I was trained on film, Kodak Vericolor II to be precise, 120 12-on. Initially using the wonderful Rollei 2.8f twin lens, completely manual camera, taking a meter reading with my Weston Euromaster IV, looking down the viewfinder at a ground glass screen at a reversed image.

I learned most of my craft then, in the first 5 years of my career, the basic fieldcraft I still teach (, and I still refer back to my past to work a photographic issue through, a lighting technique I used on a particular job in 1986, or a technique to stop a rapidly blinking bride from rapidly blinking.

So when I was forced to use a digital camera professionally for the first time I told myself that I must use the skill of a film photographer, one who has to ensure that when he clicks the shutter it was damn well right in camera beforehand, I had to resist the lure of checking the little screen on the back to make sure ‘I had it’, hell I should known if I’ve ‘got it’, I’m a professional.

Of course, that rule lasted about 10 seconds, and with it the old skills of the photographer, I am afraid, diminish.

So, I ask again, how are we all surviving?

Photography has never been more important to everyday life, people are taking more and more quality photos, the mystery of a film photographer has been unlocked, the modern photographer doesn’t have to think about old school stuff, is my flash synchronizing? it’s instantly with him or her, they are instantly sheltered from the bad stuff of photography, the failure that film photographers had to deal with, the blank frame on a roll, how did that happen? Failure in photography IS the fastest, the best way to learn, and to develop and to become a successful photographer.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some modern photographers out there who are wonderful; brought up on digital capture only they produce excellent excellent work, but imagine what they would be producing should they have fucked up a few times, should they have to go back to a bride and say, sorry but…

We are surviving with this constant battle with people who think photography is simple so I’ll become a photographer and with a quality threshold being pushed down so low by the end user, that ‘that photographer will do’ comes into play, and with it the price plummets also.

Lastly, how are we surviving?

Because we are damn good, that’s how, because the skills and the experience we have gained, whether that be 40 years ago or 40 minutes ago, have allowed us, not just once, but always, to produce images way beyond the ‘acceptable’, and more, our images must break the current lower threshold norm and dazzle, never to be forgotten.

That’s a major point, the images we produce should never be forgotten. The events we are covering will never be forgotten, it’s an injustice if our photographs are.

A bride, who I know loosely was once bartering with me, she was getting married 2oo miles away, found a local guy to do the job for little cash, but I suspected she wanted me, photographically speaking. I let him have the job.

A month later when I next saw her, her first comment, with mild embarrassment was ‘we did get some nice photos’, I replied with a masked told-you-so smile that if I had taken the job and she had said that to me, then I would be totally devastated, that I would have failed both or us, one her most important of days, I’d have failed.

And here’s another point, amazing, wow, wonderful, fantastic, these are the words I want to hear from my clients, not simply nice. These are the words we should all be wanting to hear.

We adapt to fresh ideas us photographers, we are never static in our thought processes. We price dependent on the market value, the real market value, not one pushed down by someone with DSLR or over-inflated by our ego.

All of these reasons and more, mean we can survive, and the more we push our healthy refreshing ideas and reinforce our professional stance, the better at surviving we’ll become.

Let the preeners preen, let the snappers dabble but please just let us go about our business, quietly, professionally and skillfully.

And in that way not only will we please our clients, we’ll not only survive but I promise, thrive.


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