Ah ha! 72 hours away from the blog when it was only supposed to be 24. And what dragged me out of my non-blogging cave for the day? An April Fool’s article passed along by good friend and fellow photography enthusiast Josh.
The article that got me was posted over on PhotographyFinds.com. The article was about a proposed Federal Law requiring photographers to be licensed and have a minimum set of skills. Think of it as the “Anti-Fauxtographer” bill. Reading the article you almost think it’s legit. And then at the end of the article there’s a link to sign a petition in favor of the legislation. Click that and you’ll learn it’s an April Fool’s article.
It sounded real, and I got a little excited
While I’m not strictly in the photography biz anymore, and working on other revenue streams, photography still does play a role in a lot of what I do. And I pride myself on delivering consistent results when shooting for clients. I also find myself justifying pricing constantly, being asked to lower rates, and being told that since I love photography there’s a trade off and making a living shouldn’t be so important to me. While I enjoy what I do, I also enjoyed network engineering and got paid stupid amounts of money to do what I enjoyed.
Bottom line, with so many “Fauxtographers” out there, folks who don’t know what they’re doing, they are killing me every time I speak with a potential client. “Suzie Picturepal offers a $50 sitting and $100 for a disk of everything she shoots……how come you don’t?” Uh, cause Suzie takes crappy images, you know it, and that’s why you’re talking to me.
Reading the April Fool’s post I had a split reaction. The first reaction? About time! Let’s talk about that reaction, and then we’ll discuss reaction number 2 next.
Right now there is no way to distinguish an actual professional photographer from an enthused hobbyist. They have a website you say? Well, do their images look good? Are they actually their images? Do they know Photoshop? Are they good with off camera lighting? Are you sure they’re not a creepy guy just trying to take photos of young “models?” Are they incorporated? Do they have a business license in your community and state? Do they pay taxes on the revenues generated? Have you checked anything out about them beyond their psychotically low prices?
A moment here. When I asked if the images they’re showing look good and are actually their own, I have a serious reason for that. There’s a website called Stop Stealing Photos dot com out there showing that some new start up photo studios are actually stealing images from established photographers and claiming the work as their own. They’re doing this because they’re not good photographers yet, and they want customers to believe they are. That’s called copyright infringement. And it is illegal. And it’s a disservice to potential clients. You think you’re getting A quality when you’re actually getting a total unknown. Some would call that fraud as well.
In my case, for years I only did landscape and outdoor photography. When people asked me to do portraits for them I said no because I didn’t know how to take a good portrait. And after spending 4 years, tens of thousands of dollars on training and equipment, I finally did offer portrait work. But I poured years and money into learning how to do it right. Why? Because I wanted to do valuable work for clients, and I wanted my clients to be HAPPY! It’s not just about making money, you have to do the best you can for clients.
With years of learning, working, and refusing to shoot clients until I got it right you could say there’s a lot of investment there. But in the end I have no way of differentiating myself from the fellow who got a shiny new Canon 6D at Best Buy yesterday. Basically we’re on an equal playing field when it comes to selecting a photographer. They can make a cool website, “borrow” images from other people, price so low they’re guaranteed to starve in 12 months, and then I have to justify my own rates in comparison to theirs. No matter what anyone says about quality of work I can tell you from 6 years of small business experience 90% of what it comes down to is…..
When a legit business doing all the right things (taxes, business licensing, constant training, attention to quality of work) has to compete against a sea of competitors not doing these things it makes a tough sell indeed.
With all that said, reading the fake article made part of my brain very excited. I am willing to get a license, take a test, etc. Establish some bare minimum guideline here people. Make sure that I can deliver a decent product for clients and not rip them off. And let’s see, many other professions have licensing, exams, etc.
- Building contractors in many states need licenses.
- Lawyers have to pass the bar.
- Doctors and Dentists have exams and licenses.
- Restaurants need licenses and have health inspections so you know they won’t poison you.
- Hair dressers have licensing, as one of my friends just took her state exam (Hi Mags).
- Truck drivers get the CDL’s.
- My mechanic has an ASE certification
- The guys in Geek Squad have to take tests before they crack your computer open.
- Owning Quickbooks does not make you an accountant…just check with your state.
- And so on and so on…….
Indeed, many “service” industries have some types of minimum guidelines. You can’t buy a scalpel and stethoscope and hang out a Doctor’s Office sign on Whiskey Row tomorrow. Pull your food cart out to a county Fair without a vendor license and food license? Yeah, gonna have some trouble there buddy. I don’t care how good your cotton candy is, you’re gonna need a license, permit, etc.
So yes, part of my mind got all sorts of excited. No more competing with the $50 sitting and $100 DVD. See if I do compete on price with that I have one conclusion. Going out of business. That simple. But there was another part of my brain saying something totally different.
No!!!!! Government oversight will create a nightmare!
Ah yes, there’s the other part of my thinking. Could you imagine government criteria for photographers? How scary could that be? Having “the State” tell you what is and is not good photography. What if a state licensing official hates all color photos and wants to go back to black and white? How about someone who hates off angle photos and wants all images level with the horizon? God forbid…..you have to stick to “rules of thirds” for every image you take!!!! Or worse, what if the state certification officials are bitter burned out ex-photographers who have an axe to grind?
I can picture it now. A solid concrete building with a big boring sign reading DPL (Deparment of Photographer Licensing). Sit in a giant waiting room from 8 a.m. to 1:37 p.m. when your number finally gets called. It would have been 12:37 p.m. but everyone behind the counter took their mandatory 1 hour lunch right at noon. You get up to the examiner who gives you a multiple choice test that you take standing up at a concrete counter over in the corner of the office. Other photographers peaking over at your selections on the multiple choice. Finally you turn your test in and the personal evaluation begins……that’s when they ask you to parallel park!!!!!
Yeah, I don’t think anyone wants to see that either. As a matter of fact just going down that whole mental image trail has me pretty depressed. I love the fact I don’t have to go to the DMV often. 🙂
The kid in me likes the frosted side
Ah, Frosted Mini-Wheats. Remember those? Do they still sell them? I haven’t checked in a while. If you were like me then you know the secret to that cereal…….
Simply eat the frosted half and move on to the next nugget. In the end you’ve got a milky bowl of squishy wheat-only halves and you try to sneak away from the table before mom notices you did it again, and she swears she’s never getting you Frosted Mini-Wheats again. That’s why we mostly had Frosted Flakes in my house. They don’t skimp on the frosting anywhere so you finish the whole bowl.
Like the Mini-Wheats, I definitely find myself split on the concept of this April Fool’s post. The pro photographer in me would like to compete on a level field with other professionals. Justifying my price with every conversation I have is a downer, and it makes me want to work on databases and routing tables again. The other half of me, the former New Hampshire “Live Free or Die,” resident doesn’t want government getting involved in my life any more than it is.
So, where do I land on this?
Well, I want the sweet side of course. And I’ll leave the milky bowl of squishy wheat for someone else to deal with. Well, I’m allergic to milk, so it’s an Almond-milky bowl.
I’m torn honestly. All this from a April Fool’s post on a photography website. But you know what? That post was put up to fool folks, right? So it’s something on other photographers’ minds. It is something that resonates in our minds because the industry has gotten very weird with the proliferation of digital cameras. I’m not advocating ripping cameras out of people’s hands. I was an amateur and enthusiast for decades. But here’s what’s different for me from many of the folks diving in…..
I spent the time to learn. I offered what I knew I was good at when I was good at it. There was no bluffing customers. “Sure I can do under water portrait photography,” when I know damn well I’m terrified of scuba gear. The unfortunate thing today is that people think all it takes is a big fancy camera with a few sweet lenses and they’re in. And those people have done damage to the industry. So much damage that an April Fool’s post was written, and I just spent over 45 minutes writing nearly 1750 words on the subject.
With all that said….. I’m heading out to buy a protractor, some grid paper, and pencils…..I’ve always wanted to get into architecture.