By Gene Rodman
Recently I was given three old copies of Popular Photography from 1940. Film back then was becoming readily available in rolls, and 35mm cameras called "miniatures," were all the rage because of their ease of operation. Sure you had to carry a separate light meter to measure the brightness of the light of the scene you wanted to photograph. Then there was translating the reading into an f stop/shutter speed combination and setting it on the camera and lens. There was loading the film properly, advancing the film, and focusing the subject in the viewfinder. Then there was the moment of truth when the shutter was tripped.
There was no image preview after the exposure. Hopefully a good exposure was made on the film, which now had to be developed. Serious photographers developed and printed their own images whereas the majority of people had the developing and printing done for them by one of the many labs popping up everywhere. Large box cameras with bellows were being replaced by these smaller miniature 35mm cameras. Photography was now becoming available to everyone and there was a boom of imagery. Everyone could now record images of friends, family and important moments in their life. In the 1940s these cameras were selling for about $35-$40 or more. Quite a lot of money back then. But people were happy they had the ability to create photographs.
Today, people still find the way to buy the equipment they want and cameras are at least hundreds--if not thousands--of dollars. But nobody needs to know much about photography other than accessing the features on their camera. Most people set their camera to automatic and start shooting. In the 1940s people had to know a little bit about the mechanics of the camera and lens. If they wanted to print their own photographs they had to know about film and chemistry. If they didn't learn the basics they were not going to get an acceptable image. Because there was no image preview with a film camera there was no feedback to see if you made a mistake. Today, a good camera is one that requires no thought, yet will still produce fairly good photographs. The technology of today's cameras has made everyone a fairly good photographer.
One of the articles in the 1940 Popular Photography magazine was on making money with your camera. It cautioned that even though just about everyone could create images, there was more to photography than clicking the shutter. Someone expecting to get paid for creating images had to have more than a casual knowledge of photography. They also had to have an understanding of lighting, composition, and skill to capture the moment. Those that were making a good living from photography were hard working diligent craftsmen. It was a blending of technical expertise and creative inspiration. These two traits don't usually go together because one is left brain activity while the other is a right brain activity.
Producing a good quality image today is much easier than ever before. Without much training, aspiring photographers can start photographing friends and family with fine results. Instead of sending the images to a lab photographers can print their own images quite easily on desktop printers. Depending on a person's interest, they can branch into a variety of fields and start being compensated for the images they produce.
But just as some individuals have a gift for singing, sculpture, or other creative talent, those with a natural ability to capture great images is rare. Because most everyone has a camera and they have the ability to produce good quality images, the value of photography has diminished. Professional photographers are now competing with amateurs in wedding and portrait photography. It is fairly easy to purchase a good camera and hang out a shingle and start a photography business. Those that receive money for their photography are usually those that can provide images that most average photographers can't seem to produce. These individuals are different because they don't rely on the technology in the camera to do the work for them. Rather than shooting in automatic where the camera does all the thinking they have learned to experiment with different modes, lenses, and lighting to see what happens.
A saturation of imagery has made it difficult for most people to discern a good image from an average one. With the sheer numbers of images we are exposed to in our daily lives we are unable to see value in just one image. Where does the value come in an image? Usually I find it is when someone has an emotional response to it. Being able to capture the feeling of the moment rather than simply recording a moment involves an intimacy with the subject. Those photographers who can capture an emotion with their imagery and do so with technical proficiency can often do well. A photographer's style is also an important ingredient for a demand for his or her work. It usually takes time for a photographer to move beyond the mundane and develop a style. Style is uniqueness in the perspective or presentation of the image.
Many photographers have a difficult time asking for money for work they joyfully produce. I love creating images that recreate a feeling or time when I captured it. An image stops time and so we can revisit the moment again and again. Because the value of a photograph is often intangible, even diligent photographers with much experience have difficulty asking for fair compensation for the work they do. Marketing experts know that any business must take into account branding, exposure, advertising, along with sales to make a business work. A love for doing what you do is always important for your own happiness but making money in photography can be difficult because you are selling something that has a variable perceived value. I have images that cost me much in the way of travel expenses to capture and others that were taken within a few feet of my front door. Value is something the photographer must put on his or her work. I usually find that most artists undervalue their work. Like all creativity the real value is in act of being creative.
This month?s photo is one of my baby portraits. After we became grandparents I found I loved recording intimate moments between a new baby and its parents. This involves being patient and allowing whatever happens to happen and capturing the moment. This is an example of an image that the average photographer could not take mainly because it is taken in a studio. The average photographer also wouldn?t take the time to wait for the baby to fall asleep in its father?s arms.
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