Saturday, November 1, 2008

Questions you don't want to ask a photog

All pictures ©Marina Hermanovna
please do not use my pix without permission
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Hi everyone !
This post is about photography, a form of art that we all know in some way - and that's where all the problems come from, in my modest opinion.

Please note that all the pictures featured on this post have been taken with a consumer compact camera, no professional lighting (the small flash fired, that's it), no make up, no hairdresser, no stylist, minor digital retouching.
I only posted a few although I have many others because I want to publish these somewhere, so please avoid downloading or I'll have to stop posting my pictures.

Soon enough I'll post some more taken using natural lighting - so to all the young photographers out there (I am thinking about Autumn!), yes you can take perfect pics - even if you cannot afford much; besides, you can buy used equipment and Christmas is oh so near...

There are a bunch of clichés about photography, and as a professional I have to deal with two or more of the following sentences any given week.
So here I present you in random order some questions you do not want to ask a photographer - unless you want to see some professional eye-rolling.

1 - "Oh I see, you are a photographer! And what do you do as a job?" 
Didn't I just say professional, you spoiled brat?

2 - "Wow, you are a photographer! I see there are many tonight!" 
"No hon. Holding a camera, no matter how big, does not make you/them a photographer, but just a dude with a big camera that takes useless party pictures. Oh, and professionals seldom take pictures at parties because they want to enjoy the party, in fact"

3 - "Do you do black and white? 'Cuz I love it!"
This sentence is emptier than a Halloween pumpkin. Please tell me the first and second name of someone who does not like black and white photography. I believe the reason why so many people say so is because they only go to the exhibitions of Cartier Bresson and Boubat and this kind of stuff and they totally ignore the work of masters of colors like Martin Parr. So when they say they love black and white photography what they actually mean is they only know the work of very old reportage photographers.

4 - "How many Megapixels does your camera have? / What's your camera?"
 I have six cameras to begin with. The one I use the most for payed work is a Canon 5D, which has 12,8 Megapixels. Having said that you must be aware of the fact that other 60 millions people have the same camera, most of them are not professionals, and by no means they all make beautiful pictures. On the other hand, a professional photographer can take beautiful pictures using any given camera, even a compact consumer camera. In fact, the pictures you see here have been taken with a small 7 Megapixels compact Canon, a japanese turist's camera. It's not about the equipment, it's all about the eye. 

5 - "Do you have a darkroom? Do you print your pictures yourself?"
I know how to do this; I spent so many days in a darkroom back in 2006 that at a certain point I started seeing green creatures and feeling dizzy (hint: the acids definitely give you some kind of high if you smell them for too long - but please, don't try this at home).
But the fact is many amazing photographers never developed or printed a single picture in their entire life - Robert Mappelthorpe for instance never did.
What you see in Hollywood movies - a boy in his darkroom hanging prints under the redlight and stuff it is not a photographer's job, but a printer's.
Of course a photog must know how he/she would like a print to look and tell the printer where to correct the negative but the thing is professional photography is a work for an artist, whereas printing only requires a good artisan.
So a photographer may or may not know how to print or Photoshop his/her pictures, but this won't really make a difference since it is not his/her job in the first place.

6 - "Awww, photography! What an amazing job you do!"
That's not a question, but it's dumb enough to end up in my shitlist. Taking pictures for your pleasure is amazing, trying to make a living with your camera is another business, that involves so many unpleasant sides people just tend to ignore.
For instance, did you know that the beautiful editorials you see in fashion magazines don't make us any richer at all? This is because magazines don't pay the photographers for editorials; they pay the models (very little), the hair and makup persons, the stylist, the retoucher.. but no, the person that directs all of these contributors into one significant direction, his/her vision of beauty, is not paid a cent. The reason is they "give us a window to showcase our work"; go tell my landlord... 

7 - "Well you can still take digital pictures, it won't cost you a thing!"
Non professinal digital photography costs less than non professional traditional photography, we can agree on this point. 
But when it comes to professional photography, digital is just as expensive (if not more) than film. Whe shoot tons of pictures, we make backups on huge RAID hard drives, we have stuff you dont need like a device that calibrates the screen, a graphic tablet, flashpacks, lightstands, backdrops and backdrops stands, sensor cleaners, light boxes and umbrellas, cobra snakes, filters, software, Pocket Wizards and black adhesive tape, and cinefoil and gelatines and..
Well, you get my point. 

8 - "Wow, this model is gorgeous. Must be easy taking great pictures with such beauties!"
Taking a beautiful shot has NOTHING to do with the physical beauty of the subject you are shooting; this is why you can find an amazing picture of an old man and many butt-ugly looking editorials and catalogs out there.
The beauty of a pic comes mostly from composition, lighthing, emotion, originality and the overall ability of the photographer to convey his vision and making it clear in one fragment of a second for anyone.
After all, when you are not Mario Testino they don't give you Naomi Campbell to work with, so young photogs have to work their asses to make models look way better than they do in real life.
If taking great pictures only required great models there wouldn't be professional photographers but only modeling agencies. Period.

9 - "How much do you sell a picture? / How much do you charge for a book?"
I usually reply with "How much is a car?". They get it.
First off, you don't SELL pictures (with the exception of wedding pics), you just rent them.
Photography being an intellectual job, no one can ever be deprived of the property of his work of art, unless he/she has been dead for more than 70 years, then it becomes public domain.
Until then, just as a writer cannot sell his writing but only a copy of his printed book, photographers don't sell pictures, they only rent the rights to use them somewhere for a certain amount of time.
Yes, I make books and pay test for modeling agencies or aspiring actors and the market price for these ranges from 200 to 400 euro if you have a home studio and do not require professional hair and makeup or styling, but just a cd of retouched pics.

10 - "Wow, you work with models? I mean, real models? Aren't they all anorexic? Are they rich? Do they party every night in fancy hotels? Do they go to castings with a driver? Tell me some diva anecdote - please!"
Models are thin, but they are seldom anorexic. Runway models, especially haute couture models as opposed to prêt à porter models are extremely thin, but they usually get that thin just one month before the shows. I am thin enough to get into a modelesque french size 36 (an american 2), and I eat pasta and ice cream... not everyday, ok.
Underwear models are often fatter than I am, in fact, and the only real difference is that they are sometimes shorter than clothing models and they often have breast implants to reach this not-so-natural top heavy look.
I have seen a 16 y.o. eastern european girl with breast implants; she said her parents mortgaged their house to pay for her new tits, so she can get more lingerie contracts and send her brother to college. True story.
But everyone keeps talking about anorexia, as if this serious psychological illness was the only issue fashion has to deal with.
14 years old models? Ok. 
Agencies selling them to rich old men (it happens, it happens, not giving names though)? Fine. Agents telling girls to go get a nosejob then come back if it turns out well? Alright!
But still, everyone talks about anorexia.

Oh, and models are by no means rich. In fact, unless you reach the "supermodels' heaven", modeling has become a pretty mediocre job, in terms of paycheck. The golden age has passed, and now many designers offer the girls to keep the dress after the show and that's it, and if you are not okay with it there are 100 other girls willing to accept.
As for the driver part, no, only a city plan and a MetroCard! I have seen some divas though.
But when it comes to true divadom leave it to the actresses to beat the shit out of models; 
for the love of gossip, here some first hand exemples:
- smoking where not allowed (Shalom Harlow, Mélanie Laurent)
- leaving half-eated sandwiches on the couch (Tilda Swinton), 
- being moody and hard to work with (Karolina Kurkova)
I could continue this list but hey, I still need to get some work !

marina hermanovna