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A Little History Raise your hand if you remember how to load film into a camera. Keep it in the air if you ever used a manual focus lens. Okay, give your right arm a break and raise the left if you remember 126 cartridge film and flash "cubes". And finally, if you were around when we used flash "bulbs" and Box Brownies you better put your arm down before you stroke out. Photography has changed hasn't it? I can remember "back in the day" when you had a roll of film processed the big box stores only charged you for the pictures that turned out - and that was a big deal for a lot of people. There was a time when most people could get all of the kids' birthdays, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas on one roll of film. Even as recent as the 1980's photography and getting an acceptable picture was still a mystery to many. I bought my first professional digital camera in 1998. The digital sensor was made by Kodak and the camera itself was based on a Nikon body. The camera sported a three -- yes THREE -- megapixel sensor and it cost me just shy of ten thousand dollars. My Dad just about flipped. At the time I also purchased a computer big enough and fast enough to process the images, a professional film scanner and a water/chemical based Fugi printer. I jumped into digital at a price tag in excess of $30,000. Now Anyone Can Be a Professional Photographer Professional grade digital camera prices have plummeted. My most recent camera is a Nikon D200 with a 10.2 mega-pixel sensor and it cost under $2000. Many of my clients have better cameras that I do. It's easy, there's nothing to it, the mystery is gone. Yes, now anyone with a point and shoot digital camera can take pictures and get most of them to turn out. If it doesn't -- just hit the delete button. No longer do people just take snapshots -- suddenly everyone is a "photographer". If It Quacks Like a Duck - It Is Not Necessarily a Duck I made an extremely foolish mistake recently. My son was married about six months ago and the ceremony was held in a town several hours away from our home. My son knew I wanted to be part of the ceremony and having me do the photography would not have been ideal. My wife searched the internet and we found someone who -- based on the images on their site -did solid work. We called and he was booked but he recommended another "professional
photographer", friend of his, who had photographed his wedding. While the recommended photographers images weren't as strong as the first person we contacted we figured if that guy was happy... well... NOT! The photographer we selected would more aptly be defined as a "shooter"; someone who utilizes a motor driven shutter and a 4 gig camera card to it's fullest. He took lots of pictures to be sure -over 800. If I had taken the images I would have been ashamed to show them to my client. The old saying that, "even a blind hog hits the barn once in awhile" held true. But just barely. As I read somewhere recently, "digital just means there are more people taking bad pictures than every before." I have been a professional photographer since 1994 and I was stupid enough to hire an incompetent unprofessional amateur to photograph my own son's wedding. My ignorance cost my family and the bride's family the enjoyment of quality portraits of that special day. But Professional Photographers Are So Expensive In the course of researching this article I came across several others that offered explanations to the above. Many of the articles went to great lengths to justify the reasons for the expense. There's the cost of professional equipment as well as the time and gas involved in driving to a portrait session. There's the time to take the pictures and then process the image files on an expensive computer. The costs involved in meeting with a client several times and the photographers costs for advertising. All good points to be sure -- but even the unprofessional incompetent amateur who photographed my son's wedding was subject to these same expenses. Beauty Is In the Eye Of the Checkbook Holder The painful fact for many seasoned, truly professional portrait artists is the average person does not know the difference between a good portrait and a bad one. Please don't misunderstand -- (as I've already explained, sometimes even professional photographers don't know the difference) -judging a good portrait is no different than judging a good painting. Unless you have some education in what to look for you base your opinion on what you know and like. A good portrait to most people is one where the head is not cut off, there are no dark shadows across the faces and the subjects are smiling and have their eyes open. What's Most Important About Your Portrait? I readily admit that big box chain studios and Uncle Fred with his new "prosumer-digital-wondercamera" have their place. If you're happy with dramatically over or under exposed images, if color balance and tone are insignificant to you, if composition, color harmony and posing don't show up on your radar, then go for it. But if you're looking for an artistically composed portrait with beautiful lighting and posing, an image you'll be proud to hang on your wall -- then hire a professional. It Takes More Than Pressing the Button My Dad was a very avid amateur photographer. He loved taking pictures of flowers and landscapes and family. Years ago he and my Mom were on a trip out west and visited the Grand Canyon. Dad had his Nikon 8008s (a quality camera at the time) on a tripod and was taking the best images he knew how of the scene before him. A few feet away a gentleman was setting up
his heavy duty wooden tripod onto which he set an eight by ten view camera (the kind you've seen in pictures with the big adjustable bellows at the front). The guy says to my Dad, "I see you've got one of those PhD cameras." "PhD?" my Dad says. "Yeah, Push Here Dummy." It's a long way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Digital Has Made Me a Better Photographer I read a survey recently of professional photographers. One of the questions was, "how long does it take to get competent behind the camera?" The average answer was five years. Five years of studying, making mistakes and corrections, learning lighting, posing, color harmony and tonal balance. There is no question in my mind that I am five times the photographer today as I was four or five years ago -- and by then I'd been at it for ten plus years. The immediacy of digital allows us to tweak the image, the lighting the pose to create that perfect portrait. So What Are You Paying For? A professional photographer is someone who charges enough for his work so he can tear up and image and start over if the customer is not satisfied. A professional photographer is someone whose fees are high enough to allow her to continue her education, always staying abreast of what's current. A professional photographer is someone who can analyze a scene and adjust his lighting to bring out the best in his subject. Who considers the color of the clothing and the background and how they compliment one another. Someone that takes the time to perfect the pose, adjust the hands, tilt the head just so to, all while communicating with his subject, helping them to relax and look natural. A professional photographer is an artist, a scientist, a psychologist, a student and a business person. If they have a studio they're also a janitor, a window washer, a bookkeeper and an interior decorator.
I Am a Professional If you were flat on your back with a golf ball sized brain tumor who would you want sawing off the top of your skull; the world renowned brain surgeon or the up and coming resident? Who do you want to have final say on your tax return; the CPA or the bookkeeper? Do you take your Mercedes to the corner mechanic or the certified Mercedes garage? When all of your newly planted shrubs are turning brown do you talk to the person at the big box store garden department or do you go see the Certified Professional Horticulturist at your lawn and garden store. Creating beautiful portraits of you and your family is my business and my life. I don't do this as a hobby. I don't have a spouse with a full time job and benefits. I don't do just enough to get by; I take the time and I do whatever I can to make your experience in my studio enjoyable and your portraits unforgettable. I am a professional photographer.
David H. Meir is a professional portrait photographer in Rochester, MN. He and his wife Kate have owned and operated d. holmes meir studios in the same location since 1994. They specialize in photographing high school seniors, babies and families. Their studio website can be found at http://www.dholmesmeir.com
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