Thursday, October 24, 2013

Good money and bad money

Many photographers fall into the trinket buying trap. It's an easy one to fall into - it's like magpies that see shiny objects. The Simpsons parodied this with women's fascination for jewelry with a chant that went "shiny, shiny, shiny". Another similar thing would be buying trash for your car. When it comes time to sell, beaded seat-covers, fancy grills, fancy wheels, fancy radios, fancy upholstery won't change the fact that to the next owner, they're just embarrassing add-ons that the previous owner put on that he will want a discount when he buys the car from you in order to suffer.

Photographers used to be bad for buying filters and companies used to produce every filer under the sun. With black and white, only polarizing, red, orange, green and yellow filters were worthwhile. The rest were just garbage. Photos could be soft-focussed quite well in the darkroom. Starbursts could be achieved with the smallest possible aperture. With color film, photographers used to mess about with graduated filters of various types and colors. The fact is that the only filter worth having was always the polarizer. The rest were just garbage. They sold though and some pretentions and naive individual usually bought them.

Now that digital is here, people are finally realising that all they need is a polariser. Anything else can be faked after the fact. It still doesn't change the fact that all people want and all magazines want is a good clear photo. They don't want anything that makes them run, vomiting to the bathroom. This is possibly finally getting through to people since for a long time, digital cameras were unable to accept filters and thus people didn't use them and got out of the bad filter habit.

The manufacturers of garbage and cheap knick-knacks have not lain idle though. They still produce garbage and con people into buying it. The current fad is flash modifiers that allegedly diffuse the light to make it look more natural. Well baloney to that - a flash photo looks like a flash photo whether it is a bare flash tube bounced off the ceiling, blasted straight at the subject or has some form of plastic pot placed over the flash. It doesn't matter if the plastic pot has a fancy label on it and was made by a beautiful woman in a factory where clothing was banned. It still doesn't change the fact that the flash is a tiny point of low-quality artificial light. There's a good reason these plastic pots aren't supplied by flash manufacturers - they don't work. Sure, many people kid themselves that they do but there's nothing they can do that can't be done with proper technique.

Gadget bags - people are so afraid of bashing their pretty lenses and camera bodies. Why? Because they know they're going to want to sell them at some point. Well, here's a newsflash - camera bodies sell for almost nothing secondhand. As for camera lenses, they sell for about 50% of their new value, secondhand and go down to about 25% of their new value if they're bashed to heck. What does this mean for all you out there? Simple - buy second hand and toss them in your bag. A $600 lens will be worth $300 so you buy it secondhand for $300 and toss it in your bag, knowing that even with the heck bashed out of it, you'll get $150 for it. In any case, the most padding you'll ever need on a lens or a body is a towel. Toss your lenses wrapped in towels into you back pack and they will be fine. You don't need expensive gadget bags that look like walking advertisements for expensive gear.

Lenses - why do people buy so many darned lenses? People that think they're going to go professional immediately think they need backups of backups. It's not so. One body and one lens is fine for most things. Grab yourself the equivalent of a 24 - 90 and you'll be fine for 90% of situations. The other 10% is not worth bothering about. Really, seriously, people will buy a 2,000mm lens knowing they will use it maybe once in a blue moon. That's an utter waste of money. For the price of a lens like that, hire the damned thing, pay less and don't have capital tied up in garbage.

I don't have any tolerance for photography bullshit. Read any internet forum and you'll get all the 12 year olds responding, repeating what they have heard some other 12 year old say on another internet forum. Ask for an opinion on a lens and you'll get everybody swearing a certain lens is excellent or bad or whatever and I guarantee - none of them have ever used that lens. You'll get a ton of them with websites listed as though it was their website and I guarantee none of them have anything to do with those websites as the websites are not theirs.

There are all the other gadgets too - light meters, flash meters, funky flash outfits, studio set ups etc. None of this is needed by amateurs. It's all expensive stuff that professionals used to be able to afford when professional photography existed. Now it's only the amateurs that can afford it so it's marketed to amateurs but made to look like it's for professionals. Nobody needs all this stuff.

Let's look at cheap ways of doing things... A white reflector? What's wrong with a sheet of paper or a piece of white card? Studio lighting? What's wrong with a couple of angle-poise lamps with more powerful bulbs or perhaps some cheap halogen work lights? A fancy backdrop and backdrop stand? What's wrong with a bedsheet pinned to the ceiling or wall or hung on a piece of string or even taped to a piece of plastic tubing from the hardware store? Flashes have to be by the camera manufacturer because the warranty says so? No - they don't. Just get the cheapest darned flash that will do the job. So it might take several seconds to charge - are you really in a great rush? Don't get equipment that works around you, get equipment that you can work around. The former will bankrupt you quickly while the latter saves you money. I guarantee you will bore of doing one type of photography all the time.

Many amateurs see "professional" as being something to aspire to. It's not - all professional means is that you advertise, charge money and spend your life making photography from what used to be a pleasure into an interminable chore. Then there's not just the loss of pleasure of photography but the non-paying "clients", the annoying and finicky clients, the clients that you just wish you'd never even picked up the phone to answer plus the clients that are quite frankly, assholes.

Good money is money spent that recoups its value. Bad money never does. Bad money is money spent on expensive trinkets that don't return than much in pleasure. If you're afraid of getting your equipment stolen, insurance is not the answer. The answer is that you've bought stuff that's too expensive for your income. Most people would love to drive a Ferrari Testarossa every day but we can't afford it so we drive a Ford Pinto. The only difference is looks - the practical function is identical.

How do I go out with my camera? I select my wide to medium telephoto zoom and go out with one body and one lens. Occasionally I might get out there with a second lens which will usually be medium telephoto to long telephoto. I can guarantee that I will usually have the wrong lens on the body for the situation. Take the other day when I was at the zoo, I wanted a nice close-up of a lioness roaring but there were two problems. One was that I have an older camera that does not do video and the other was that I had the short lens on instead of the long one. It was something I missed so I just watched instead.

Next time I might be lucky and have the right lens on or I could be unlucky and have the wrong lens. To be honest, it was the wrong day - it was too cloudy and grim to take great photos with a long lens anyway. I was struggling even at 1600ISO to get clean photos. Part of the problem can be attributed to my lens which does occasionally over-compensate for stabilisation errors. Sometimes it goes plain bananas and has to be switched off then on again. In general I am not keen on stabilised lenses. It's just another thing that can and does cause issues at times.

The KISS principal of Keep It Simple, Stupid, applies very much to photography. Keep things simple - the simpler the system, the lenses or the cameras, the more pleasure you're going to get. Forget about income - that's a myth. Ok. let's look at that myth of income....

How do you get money from a camera? Sell the camera! It's that simple, really. I look at myself and my family. We have never ever hired a photographer. One of us usually has a camera or these days a cellphone with a camera on us. I don't know anybody that actually has hired a photographer. Those who have hired wedding photographers usually seem to hate the photos that the photographer takes and has usually considered suing them. Wedding photographers give such an air of expertise and 90% are complete fakers. There just aren't enough weddings for every expert wedding photographer to have covered those they claim to have. It's so easy to build a fake portfolio by buying other people's photos or copying them from magazines and the internet.

Keep photography simple. A camera and one or two lenses. I guarantee you won't need more. Those you think you'll need will be lenses that you think you'll use a lot but which in actual fact will spend 90% of your camera time, nestling in your camera bag. Lighting and studio stuff - as much as you can put together for as little as possible using dual purpose household gear. I guarantee it will have more worth as household gear. My tabletop studio is lit with... two $12 desk lamps. The photo below was lit with one desk lamp and had a sheet of black card behind and a sheet of glossy card underneath. I wanted to make it stand out a bit by putting it on a black background. There are a couple of things to improve upon but it's really not bad. One day I might revisit this project. The main trick aside from some slight photo editing is to ensure that the light falls only where it is needed. That's not really too hard - it goes in straight lines. If you use an LED light bulb, the lines are even straighter and simpler than normal.
Somebody will doubtless want to poke holes in every photo you or I take. They're full of their own baloney. The vast majority of their own photos are not as good. If you believe the rubbish they will tell you, you'll get disillusioned, believe your photography isn't any good and you'll lose a hobby. These are what used to be called the killjoys because they go around killing people's happiness for their own feeling of self-importance. The really laugh with those people is that they can't even take pictures the way they're telling you to. Their general answer is to buy everything and of course they own nothing that they claim to own.

As I've said, I got seduced into buying everything to be a professional photographer. I've been there and seen that it's all baloney. Nobody hires photographers. Businesses don't - they use staff members who do it for fun. Occasionally they might hire an amateur. There is absolutely no way to make a living off photography and anybody that claims to is a liar.

Most cameras have built-in flashes so you don't even need to buy a flash. I saw one enlightened wedding photographer using the kit lens that came with their camera and the onboard flash. That means that their expenditure was minimal and their income was thus maximised. The easiest thing in the world is to spend money but to spend it wisely is harder. Try my challenge - can you get away with one body and one or two lenses for a complete year? If you can then sell all the rest - you don't need it because you haven't used it in a year. If you can't then you're either doing something very specialised or you're not taking the challenge seriously.

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