Friday, April 6, 2012

The Value of a Photographer

Anime conventions brings a variety of people together, cosplayers, photographers, fans, and many other groups. Among the people who attend the convention, one of the most under-appreciated groups of people who attend the convention are photographers. Unfortunately, photographers are viewed in a negative light by some due to negative perceptions from various assumptions about photography. These assumptions assume that photography is easy to do, anyone can do it, it is very cheap, and that a good photographer is a dime a dozen. I believe that these assumptions are wrong, and these false assumptions do devalue good photographers. By knowing the real facts, I hope that people can see the real value of a photographer.

A false assumption I see quite often among people is that photography is easy to do, anyone can do it. The truth is that photography is easy to do, and anyone can do it, but it is only half the story. The problem is that photography is also hard to master and it takes years, if not decades of practice. A person who just picked up a digital SLR and a nice piece of glass is nowhere near on the level as someone who has practiced for years and developed an eye for background settings, composition, lighting, and a variety of settings. There is no cheat button to get good, it takes years of trial-and-error to learn. Practice takes perfect, and it takes many years of practice to get good in photography. Part of practice is the ability to actively learn and a desire to improve. A person could have a camera for years and the quality of their photos could still be the same, because they are not actively developing personal photographic skills and abilities to move forward. In conclusion, while it is easy to do, it is hard to master. To get closer to being good at photography, one has to practice, learn from trial-and-error and cultivate a desire to improve yourself.

The Canon 200mm f2.0L.
An expensive, but awesome lens.
One of the great false assumptions is that the hobby of photography is cheap. I am here to inject a little reality, it is a very expensive hobby. In fact it in most instances photography is a more expensive hobby than cosplay, golf, mountain biking, anime collecting, snowboarding, and video gaming. To get in the hobby, a person typically buys an entry level DSLR or micro 4/3rd's camera with a kit lens. This means that starting up, a person will be spending between $600-800 to start off. As a person develops and gets better, they will likely upgrade their gear to have a Camera body that is more professional, has a larger sensor, and is more reliable. That means if you own a Canon, it means moving to a 60D ($999), 7D ($1,799), or 5D Mark III ($3,499). If you own a Nikon, it means moving up to a D7000 ($1,199), D300 ($1,699), or D800 ($3,000). Not only that it also means buying lenses for photography like the 24-70mm f2.8 ($1,200-2,000), 70-200mm f2.8 ($1,500-2,500), 50mm f1.2-1.4 ($400-1,500), 85mm f1.2-1.8 ($500-2,200), or 200mm f2.0 ($6,000). Then you add flashes, lightstands, reflectors, memory cards, photo editing software, and camera insurance the costs add up a LOT. A popular argument is that an iPhone, android phone, or point and shoot are a good replacement a DSLR. My response is that those products have small sensors, which means that image quality will be affected. I was quite saddened when I saw people walking around Grand Canyon, taking pictures with an iPad. Sure, the quality is better than it used to, but the small sensor size and the poor internal lens will always mean that there will be image sacrifices. The hobby is an expensive hobby, and the entry level cost is pretty expensive, and to move up it is far more expensive.

There are so many photographers at a convention that some people perceive them as almost a dime a dozen. Since photographers are so ubiquitous, people forget that when they are getting a "free" shoot that they are getting an incredibly good value. A pro-level photographer charges at least $250 an hour for a shoot (if not more depending on skill), this means that a half hour shoot is $125. In most anime and comic-book conventions, making money on photography is not allowed unless express permission is given by the convention organization. This means that there are a lot of good photographers who are giving away a good value product for zero cost to the cosplayer. Photographers also like being appreciated for their work. If a cosplayer gets a photoshoot from a good photographer, treat them to lunch or give them something as a present to say "thank you." Even if a photographer does charge a nominal amount, odds are that it is well below the true value of a paid photo shoot. Even when a photographer is doing "free" shoots, it comes at a cost to the photographer: it is taking their free time to enjoy the con, it is taking time from doing random shots of cosplayers, they are reducing the life of their equipment, and it can potentially take time away from family and friends. Photographers are not a dime a dozen, they make great sacrifices to take pictures at conventions.

When you meet a great photographer at con, they do have a lot of value to them. It takes a lot of time to master the art of photography so that they get to the level they are at. The camera equipment around them is extremely expensive, a beginner may not pay that much for a camera, but once they continue to delve deeper into the hobby it becomes more and more expensive. There is the perception that photographers are a dime a dozen, I challenge that perception since a pro-level photographer costs $250+ an hour. Even if a photographer is not a pro photographer, they are still making huge sacrifices that could be appreciated more. Photographers are an integral part in the convention experience, and they provide a value to the convention that is not appreciated as much as it could be.

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