Is everyone a photographer?

“While digital may be instantaneous for most amateurs it is anything but instant for a pro concerned with delivering the best possible quality files.”

     – Seth Resnick, D65 Business of Photography presentation, May 2011

 This quote by Seth Resnick put many of my frustrations into perspective and has influenced me to review my business practices, where I am now as a photographer and where I want to be 5,10,20 years from now.

First and foremost, Seth sums up one of the biggest frustrations of professional photographers: Customers not caring about quality, just speed. I have had many potential clients (and some clients I wished stayed as potential) question the time I take to capture images. Most often, I am told to just hurry up. Things like hair, lighting, garbage on the ground, people in the background, basically any inconvenience can be fixed later with Photoshop. Unfortunately, even if that is true, fixing images in Photoshop takes time.

For example, take this common scenario: Bride and Groom formal family pictures. Since the couple was in a rush to get out of the church, they decide to do the formal pictures at the reception in a local park. As part of setting up, the photographer tries to move a trash receptacle out of the way of the shot. Unfortunately, more people put trash around it than in it, so it is taking a couple of minutes to pick up the garbage and move the can. (est. time 3 min.) However, the bride says she wants to get things going so they can join the reception and wants the photographer to “fix it later in Photoshop.” To keep the client happy and stress free, the photographer picks up a few of the bigger pieces and complies, capturing 25 images at 21 megapixels each.

When the photographer gets back to his studio to perform the technical wizardry of Photoshop, his workflow – after editing the 3000 images he captured during the day down to 800 or so, a process that took over 16 hours already – goes something like this to ‘shop the remaining 25:

Open one file in Photoshop (10 seconds wait time)

  1. Remove offending elements (1 min)
  2. Save file (10 seconds wait time)

Total time invested per image, 1 minute, 20 seconds

For sake of the argument, lets say the photographer was able to capture the smaller groups without the trash entering the frame, so 10 of the 25 images did not need the trash removed. 15 images, at 1 min 20 seconds each, is a total time investment of 20 minutes in Photoshop instead of spending 3 minutes removing the items before capture. If this happens even 2 or 3 times during the course of the wedding, the photographer could be spending as much as a couple of additional work hours in Photoshop – work he is not paid for, but directly affects the quality of the images, the bride and grooms reflection on the day 30 years from now, and the reputation of the studio.

I have always insisted on capturing RAW files in camera instead of the quicker, smaller and pre-processed JPGS files that every digital camera will also capture. There is a time and place for quick capture and turn around – a photo booth with instant printing for example – but when doing so, it should be with full knowledge of the advantages, limitations and expectations for quality, not because it can always be fixed later in Photoshop.  In a digital world, the photographer’s work has only just begun after the image is captured. For each hour spent shooting at least another hour is spent processing, editing, and optimizing the images before any “photoshoppin’” can be done.

Again, to quote Seth Resnick, “After all, everyone today is a photographer…for most folks simply clicking the shutter and uploading to OFoto and ordering prints is all that is necessary. For the pro this is not an option.”

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