Saturday, September 25, 2010

An open letter to my colleagues - i.e. newbie and part time photographers

This year I've heard from many established photographers about the increasing number of rules imposed by on them by various churches and places of worship when trying to photograph weddings. I too have had to sign more photographer agreements this year than anytime in the past. What's it all mean? It means this "profession" is being infested by a bunch of stink bugs - photographers who may talk professional, but act like boorish amateurs. People who jumped into the field with little or no training and even less experience of working along side an established professional. It also means that common sense is not very common.

Instant career, just add digital. Across the country legions of soccer moms, unemployed folks and people who 'just love taking pictures' are buying the latest Canon or Nikon DSLR and instantly proclaiming themselves "professional photographers" because their pictures are "real good." They know this because so many of their friends and relatives have told them so. Or they took a (single) photography course in high school, college, the community college and receive a positive grade (and excellent feedback from a teacher) therefore they know what they're doing.

Book knowledge does not equal practical experience. Gone it seems are the days of the apprenticeship in photography. I was lucky. When I knew this was what I wanted to do for my life, at 15 years old, I found a photographer who would take me under his wing and allow me to learn. I didn't ask for money, I was seeking something way more valuable than a paycheck, I was seeking knowledge and experience. I know today is different than yesterday, people today have bills to pay and must eat. I guess that means "back then" we didn't have bills, everyone just traded rocks, and we all foraged for our dinner. Come on! What is the #1 difference between now and then? Attitude. I lived at home, did just enough other things to get gas money and ate as cheaply as humanly possible to exist. I came to my work every day with two important items - an open mind and a closed mouth. I saw, I learned and I didn't expound my opinion.

So what's any of this mean to the church rules? Just this, without proper mentoring, practical experience, common sense (which is anything but common) and a humble attitude people are going to do very stupid things. I make it a point to talk to the officiant, often times at the rehearsal, always in the morning of the wedding. I usually ask what the most egregious thing he's ever seen a photographer do at a wedding. When I first started I was usually shocked, now I'm just angry at the insensitivity, unprofessionalism and arrogance some people with cameras possess. These are the Poser Professionals. They talk the talk but don't have a clue how to walk the walk. Or worse, don't care to learn.

So, in an attempt to impart just a sliver of knowledge, although I know you cannot teach common sense, I've developed my own set of rules for photographer conduct. It's not complete, but it will at least get you through a wedding without causing any additional damage to the profession.

So here goes, in no particular order of importance:

1). Dress so you don't embarrass the couple who hired you. I'm not suggesting a suit, but please, cut off shorts with ragged edges, t-shirts (plain, pocket or graphic), sandals and jeans of any kind (yeah, even designer) is NOT appropriate dress to photograph a wedding.

2). It's not NASCAR, turn off the 8 frame per second motor drive during the service. The only time I might shoot a burst is during the first kiss if something unusual happens, otherwise, single frame, please.

3). During the service if you need to move to the other side, go all the way around from the back of the church, don't take a short cut by crossing in front of the alter.

4). If you think you need a higher angle, go to the choir loft or lift the camera over your head, do NOT stand on the pews. Come on, a little common sense here - one, you could fall; two, you could knock the pews over (yeah, they're not always bolted down); three, it's just inappropriate!!!

5). If you think you need a lower angle, set the camera on the floor, don't lay down in the middle of the aisle. Come on! It's a digital camera. Shoot a few frames and chimp to see if you framed the shot correctly. If not, shoot a few more frames after making corrections. Laying down on the floor of the church, in the middle of the aisle is, again, inappropriate.

6). When the officiant says "Let us pray" that does not mean it's time for a six-frame-machine-gun-like burst from you, or even a single click. Respect the reverence of the moment and keep your camera at bay. Regardless of your personal faith, it would hurt you to say a little prayer for your couple either.

7). In case you didn't know, the alter is a Sacred place, don't climb up there for a different angle or to shoot over the shoulder of the officiant. Respect. Common sense. And yes, time and time again this is one of the most egregious actions officiants recount.

8). When you are told you have 30 minutes for pictures, check your watch and wrap it up in no more than 30 minutes. The reason most churches have a time limit is because there's another event happening right away, either another wedding or a worship service. Be respectful of what is coming next and the people who must prep the church.

9). Remember you are working FOR your couple and their family, not for yourself. The wants and needs of the customer comes first, what you want comes second. The service is important to your couple and their family, respect their faith and respect the Church. You may not be back their again, but they will. And you never know, if you act with respect you just might get invited back, too.

These opinions are based on my personal beliefs, common sense and several decades of experience. If you are newer to this profession I hope you will consider them as your actions have consequences greater than yourself.


Anonymous said...

Hi Terry- I agree with a lot of what you said and appreciate the tips that you gave. However, simply because someone did not develop their photography skills in the same way that you did, does not necessarily make them any less of a photographer. I also agree with what you said about attitudes differing now than when you learned. That being said, most families depend on two incomes to make ends meet now a days. If someone is unemployed or looking to make extra money for their family by taking photographs, they should be encouraged to do so, not put down.

As someone who looks to your blog for inspiration and to admire the photography, I was disappointed to see the discouraging words and rude tone used in this post. It seems to me that a photographer as established and talented as yourself should be encouraging and embracing the “new generation” of photographers and their appreciation for the craft.

Terry said...

Dear Anonymous,

First, I am saddened that you did not have the conviction of your words to post this with your name attached. There was no reason to be afraid of putting your name on what you believe. I am a very open person and in no way did I mean this post to ridicule or put down anyone regardless of how they learned photography, or their current employment or economic status. I did not intend this post to be discouraging or rude, as you read it to be.

If you know me, and I don't know if you do since you didn't attach your name to your comments, you know I am and have always been willing to help and encourage anyone who has questions. I've helped and mentored many "new generation" photographers throughout my career. If you have questions or would like to comment directly please don't hesitate to write or call.

My sole intent for this posting was to open a dialog among photographers, which it has done on my Facebook page. There will always be new photographers out there. That's the business. What unfortunately seems to be lacking as of late is common sense when covering weddings. I've talked with too many ministers who tell me horror stories of photographers crawling on pews for better angles, walking onto the alter during their service and laying down on their belly in the middle of the aisle. It's an overall lack of respect for the event and the place of worship they are working.

Even today during a final client meeting the bride to be commented on the last wedding she attended and how the photographer there was dressed in a rumpled tee-shirt and torn khaki pants. He stood out and not and in a good way. Again, common sense and respect - which is exactly what I wrote about.

Does it make someone any less of a photographer because they didn't come up through the ranks as I did. Of course not! There are many roads one can take in their career. No one can say which is the right path. National Geographic photographer William Albert Allard held many jobs before he became a world class image maker. He was a telephone lineman, cab driver and several other things before discovering photography. No, what makes someone less of a photographer in my opinion is when they call themselves a professional then act unprofessionally.

Again, I'm sorry you were disappointed and took my words as discouraging and rude. They were not meant to be either. I encourage you to keep watching my blog for inspiration and if you have any questions please don't hesitate, write or call.

All the best,