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Amateur Outlets!

Hot on the heels of my last post, I wanted to report this story that happened to me over this past weekend. A friend of mine is the photographer for a boxing management company. This past weekend they were hosting a fight in Pennsylvania. I go along to help as a second camera. Boxing events are usually 3 day events. There is a press conference, the weigh-in and finally, fight night. I covered the press conference where I was told that I could be ringside for the fight. Usually I am located at a higher location for a different point of view and my associate is ringside. Undoubtedly the better photos come from ringside. So on fight night I went to ringside to look for my spot there. I was no where to be found. I had been bumped. This has happened before and usually I don’t mind it. If I’m getting bumped for Sports Illustrated or ESPN magazine, so be it. As the night progressed and the “photographers” showed up, the overwhelming theme was that none of these ringside photographers with the exception of my friend and one other guy, knew what they were doing. How can I tell? The equipment these folks were using was not appropriate for low light indoor photography. In fact, the cameras they were using were the amateur models. One guy even had a point and shoot. This is who bumped me from ringside.As I said on the ride home, the second best photographer in the building didn’t get an opportunity to display his talents. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated event. 25-30 years ago, the “working sideline” was a respected place. It was also a special place reserved for professionals that used appropriate equipment, had special insurance and acted in a professional manner. Now the sidelines have become an amateur free-for-all. In my days at Rutgers University, I was the photographer’s liaison and facilitator. There were many times I would alert my bosses that there were certain people with cameras that shouldn’t be there. The response I got was “they are a friend of such and such”. We even had people make up some phony publication to get sideline access. It is a frustrating time for professional photographers in all fields. We as professionals have a passion for our vocation. A passion that usually costs us a lot of money. In our quest to get the best photos possible we spend thousands of dollars a year in equipment and software purchases. We also spend money to protect our investments with insurance so if we do get run over by an out of control running back, we can get the equipment repaired or replaced. Most of these amateur outlets will buy the cheapest cameras/lenses. They don’t have the proper insurance which puts the venue at risk. For instance, say one of these boxers on Saturday night fell out of the ring on top of one of these amateur photographers. The boxer breaks his/her camera and maybe the photographers arm. Not to mention the emotional scars suffered from getting a boxer land on top of this person. Without the proper insurance this person could sue the management company, the hotel, the boxer etc. Despite the fact that when you accept the sideline pass, you accept the risk. A good lawyer can always get around that. 

Anyway, there will be more discussion on this topic as time goes by. In the meantime if you want identify a pro from an amateur, just ask the person if they know what the Inverse Square Law of Light is all about. 

To Quote Rodney Dangerfield

Imagine you are a famous cardiac surgeon, You were the tops in your high school class, maintained a 4.0 GPA through college. Attended med school, did your interning and residencies and in the process spent thousands of dollars on your education. Finally you are an established MD in your late 30’s/early 40’s. One day you are sitting down to breakfast, listening to the morning news when you hear the newscaster announce a medical breakthrough that will make surgeons obsolete. Kind of an auto-doc that diagnoses and treats any ailment you may have for a fraction of what you pay for medical insurance. I can only imagine the protest and rallies to make this technology illegal. While this scenario will never happen in my lifetime, it is a real possibility 100 years from now.

While not in the same category, the photographic arts has gone through something similar to this. 150 years ago, when photography was just beginning to become a mainstream art form, photographers were using huge 8×10 view cameras with light sensitive glass plates to record an image. George Eastman, in the early 1900’s figured out a way to put this same emulsion on acetate. Thus was born roll film. Even after this, serious photography was limited to the professional. In fact it wan’t until the 1980’s that we had a film that was faster than 400 ISO. Before that you had to do a technique called film pushing which was an exposure/processing procedure that enabled you to take a 400 ISO film and make it a 1600 ISO film. It required underexposing your film and over processing it for a certain length of time. It also involved some rather advanced printing techniques in the darkroom later. In short, you had to know what you were doing to be a pro photographer.

When I was a high school kid and made the decision to do this for a living, there were not many choices in regards to formal education. There was Brooks Institute in California, Rochester Institute in New York and Middlesex County College in Edison N.J. I went to MCC. The technical knowledge I received there and in my subsequent jobs showed me that photography was a lot more than just taking pictures. As a pro, you had to know things like film sensitivity, shutter speeds and apertures. You had know characteristics of certain films to best suit the thing you were shooting. You had to know the physics of light and refraction. Somehow you had to utilize all this information to take a decent photograph.

Fast forward to to the year 2000. Digital photography begins the next evolution of photography. The automated stage had been set years before with the certain camera advances. Auto exposure, auto focus and built in motor drives set the stage for the final hurdle; eliminate film all together. Eliminate film and you eliminate the wet process. With computers starting to take over every home, this was an opportunity to bring advanced photographic techniques to the masses.Free Lance commercial photographers that were thriving in the 80’s and 90’s were now being replaced by in house people using a digital camera and a laptop with Photoshop installed. Veteran wedding photographers were competing against individuals that got into the business only months before. The field became and still is saturated by individuals not qualified to be called pro’s. When I quote a price for a job, the discussion inevitably turns to a certain person that the client knows that would do the same job for X amount of dollars less than my quote. We were always taught to never undersell yourself. That was in the salad days of photography. Now you have to match or beat a low price just to pay the bills.It’s not getting any better. Cell phone cameras are now approaching the image quality of high end cameras. Soon every middle school student with an IPhone will call themselves a pro.

From an artistic point of view, digital photography has opened up a new level of creativity for amateurs and pro’s alike. If you can imagine it then you can facilitate it with Photoshop of any other image editing program. But again, the field is too saturated. Hence it makes it harder for truly talented individuals to make a name for themselves.Plus there is the notion that using Photoshop makes things as easy as snapping your fingers. I was asked recently to insert a person into a photograph. Despite the fact that the perspectives were different. It took some doing but it was done. It also didn’t take 5 minutes like a lot of people seem to think. It can be done in 5 minutes but to do it correctly takes a bit more time. This is something the average IPhone photographer doesn’t understand.

As an art form, photography has never gotten the type of respect it deserves. We as photographers are tasked with making images of things that will never happen again. We record unique moments in time.  For instance, you can set up a camera in your backyard on a tripod and set it to photograph the same scene every day at the same time. You will never get the same exact photo. Light changes slightly, a leave may fall from a tree, a bird may me in one photo but not the next one etc. The photos may look similar but not exact. This is the true art form of photography. Yet we never get the kind of respect we deserve. But take any photo, and have a painter/illustrator copy that photo line for line, shadow for shadow and that artist will be hailed as  a talented individual. This has happened to me. Back in 1999, a local minor league baseball team opened their new stadium. I was part of the team of photographers recording the event. One of my tasks was to photograph the outside of the stadium as people were filing in. After doing that, I was asked to provide the negative of that image, for a fee, so this organization can make some lithographs.  I guess it was about a year later that I opened my newspaper to see a story about the guy that copied my photo as an illustration. This individual is a local artist that does this all the time. He will take a sports photo and copy it as an illustration and he never credits the photographer that took the original image. Nor does he have to according to copyright laws. But a photographer was the person that captured that unique image that gave him the material to work with. By the way, he makes a lot of money doing this. Somehow it doesn’t seem quite right to me. Now if I took a photograph of a famous painting and did some Photoshop things to it, I would be criticized for soiling a piece of art.

The bottom line is that the field of professional photography has become way too crowded with people looking to make an easy buck. While I will admit that technology has opened the door for a lot of individuals to become outstanding photographers/artists, the field is loaded with bottom feeders. One word: paparazzi. Photography is evolving. Unfortunately I don’t see it evolving in a positive direction. Digital tech is only getting better. More unqualified people will get involved, less true professionals will get work and eventually the whole field will be amateur slug-fest.  Hopefully when that happens, I will be long gone from the profession working at Home Depot.

Welcome to my Photo blog

Welcome to my feeble attempt at blogging. I’m going to use this site to vent, educate and entertain anyone that looks at this blog. This year,2014, is a momentous year for me. It was on June 2nd in 1974 that I began this journey into the visual art we call photography. On June 2,1974, I graduated from St. Mary’s high school in South Amboy N.J. It was a few months after that I began my time at Middlesex County College in Edison N.J. to begin my education in photography. I’m still learning to this day. I have learned a few things in the last 40 years. I have also survived a few things in the last 40 years. I survived the realization after I entered college that I was not as talented as I thought I was. I survived 3 years at a 2 year junior college finally graduating with an associates degree in professional commercial photography in 1977. I survived a year and  half working as a real estate/wedding photographer at a studio in Elizabeth N.J. Then after I went on work for a large pharmaceutical company I survived being fired for the first time in my life. I then went to work for a man that  I  credit teaching me all the important skills I needed to be successful today. I then survived a time in the retail photography world. I left that world in 1989 to start free-lancing. It was also at that time the nation went into a recession that almost ruined me. It was 1991 that Rutgers came calling and I had to survive a complete change in my photography from commercial to sports. I survived the transitions from manual focus to auto focus, film to digital. 40 years later, I’m still annoying people.

I’ve learned a few things in 40 years. You are never as good or as bad as you think you are. Don’t worry about the photos you don’t get, concentrate on the photos you do get. Always say yes to the client and figure out how to to do it later. Some things you need to be a successful photographer are Patience, Passion and a certain amount of self loathing. Patience to wait for something great to happen in front of your lens, Passion to get you up in the morning to pursue this career, or any career and self-loathing to make you do better the next time. I have also learned that of all the visual arts, photography is the least respected. Whenever there is talk of budget cuts, photography is the first thing to go. Also how many times have photographers been told how to do their jobs by people who know nothing about the art form?

My story is no different than anyone elses story. Except , of course, it is my story. I hope to write about some of these things in the coming months in the hopes that someone might follow this blog and not make the same mistakes I made.

Stay tuned!