Monday, July 25, 2011


In the world today, cameras are everywhere, it seems most people have one with them. If not a DSR or DLSR, it is a point and shoot or the omnipresent cell phone camera. If you're a celebrity and you're doing anything out in public, you had better not mind sharing it with the world. There is a great chance someone is taking your picture!!! If you're walking on a busy street or a beautiful beach, someone might be taking your picture. Maybe even me!! 

Years ago when we photographed a wedding, we had to be concerned with "Uncle Bill" and his camera. He would follow us around taking photographs as we were making the bridal formal images. As we were asking the bride and groom to look at us, he would be off to our side snapping away, which could be distracting for everyone, especially with his flash going off a second before ours. 

Professional photographers learned to coexist with him, asking him to allow us to make our images and then we would ask the bride and groom to hold the pose for one more minute while their uncle took his pictures. That worked pretty well, although we had one uncle start arranging people into a different pose! We had to laughingly tell him that he wouldn't being doing that now, but that we were sure the couple would be more than happy to pose later in the night for him. 

Today we need to be concerned with Uncle Bill and Auntie Jane and Cousins Harry, Melissa and Elvis, all with their cameras and all wanting to take photographs. Oh, for those days of not so long ago when everyone was at the open bar getting pleasantly bombed and leaving the photography to the professional photographers!!! (I say that with tongue planted firmly in cheek!!).

Now please understand me, I come not to bury the amateur photographer but to praise him. His pictures of his family will live after him. The evilly bad ones will be deleted. I really think it is wonderful that so many people are taking an interest in photography: if they are in fact taking an interest in photography and not just shooting away on program mode. Can you get a good picture if you do not know the basics, if you have not studied some of the masters? Sure, you might get a very good one. 

The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.  

I would guess it is the same with photography. But, if you take that great picture, can you take the exact same picture under different light, different environment?? Do you know how you took that picture, I mean besides pushing the shutter release button?

If you have a DSLR and you do not know what the aperture priority mode is and how to use it, if you just keep it in P (Program auto mode) then that is just one reason you're not a professional photographer. If you call yourself one and worse, charge people as if you were one, well, then shame on you!! P does not stand for Professional! It takes years of practice and studying to become a professional.

I have said in the past that in my opinion, the most important ability that any photographer needs is vision. Unless you're shooting totally raw street candids, I believe a photographer is being paid for his or her vision. That being said the photographer also needs to know his photographic tools, how best to use them and why your using them. Sometime you need to shoot in manual mode if you do not then you will miss some images!! If you're taking pictures at a wedding during the "kiss" or at the cutting of the cake and your camera's battery stops working or someone lowers the lights so now you're in darkness, do you know what to do? You cannot ask for a do over! You need to nail it the first time!!

I think there is a big difference between taking pictures and  making professional images. You add a piece of yourself to your images.You have a style that you have developed and it is intrinsically yours. Another clue that you're not a professional is if you're asked what your style is and you don't understand the question. That might be a clue that you need to study this craft!! For this is a craft, a wonderful rewarding craft and like all crafts it takes works to somewhat master it. I say somewhat because I'm  sure you cannot find one of the true greats of photography who would tell you they have mastered their craft! It is always evolving and the tools are always changing and you need to keep learning and practicing. Some examples of these points will be made clear by a night we had last week.

Phyllis and I went to dinner at a great place in the Port Saint Lucie area, Sailor's Return. They have great food (best grouper I have had in Florida), entertainment and are located in a harbor. Your table is just a few feet from the water and the boats. You can see great sunsets, dream about owning a boat like the ones docked here and enjoy a wonderful evening there. If you ever visit, ask if Jonathan could wait on your table. He really  has a great knowledge of the menu, wines and especially rums!!!! He also has a great personality and will help make your dinner even more enjoyable!! 

As always, I had my camera with me that night. I tend to find something to shoot each time we are there! Sometimes, Phyllis wishes I didn't, especially when I photograph her dinner!!! This is a snapper which was fried whole. Looks like Viagra was one of the spices!!!!

As we were finishing up our meal, the sun was setting and I shot this image from our table.

It's not a bad sunset, not as warm as I would have liked.  I made a change in camera of my white balance and aperture settings. Then when I did my post production, I made a few adjustments. This was all done in Lightroom!

I cropped it, adjusted my exposure a little and tweaked the saturation and after sharpening in Photoshop, I had this image.

It's not really that different but I like it better because it is how I saw the image in my mind! As I have written before, I tend to see in color (saturated a little) and in wide screen format.

We finished dinner and started walking down the boardwalk. Regular readers of our blog know that I have photographed from here before What can I say! I get creative after dinner and drinks lol!!
I saw the sunset was changing, getting warmer and the light was spreading across the sky. I took this image.

I guess it is okay but I knew I could do better with just a few in camera adjustments. I adjusted my white balance and exposure and changed my in camera composition! In the next few images of this sunset, I was changing my in camera's exposure from 60th of a second to a 20th of a second. My F stop went from F8 to F13. These changes were used to darken my exposure and saturate the colors.
This is what happened after I tweaked saturation and exposure in Lightroom.

 I then tweaked it a little more creating what I 'saw' in the sunset.

Bringing my exposure down even more made the saturation richer and deeper! 

I wanted to show you one more image of the sunset. For this one, I took it into a program I use occasionally called, Nik's Color Efex Pro3. In here, you can make some real changes to an image.
Sometimes I will use it to get the images of what I 'see' in my mind's eye, in the part of my imagination that helps create my style.

As you can see, there's a pretty drastic change in the color and exposure. I could do this in Lightroom or Photoshop but in Efex it is much easier and most importantly, faster. When you're working on 1500 wedding images, speed is very important.

We have driven over and under a bridge that goes from behind to beyond Sailor's Return. I have wanted to photograph from under the bridge for six months but we have either been with other people, too early for sunset or had other plans. But tonight was the night we planned getting here at a good hour and being alone. 

We drove over to a park that is right under the bridge and saw plenty of people. Quite a few people were fishing from a walkway that went under the bridge. I was not crazy about seeing the people but I knew that if I wanted to photograph this bridge and not be here at 2AM, I had to work around them. 

One of the things that caught my eye was the lights under the bridge. They gave off a warm glow that I wanted to capture. I started shooting and moving on the walkway that led away from the bridge. In under ten minutes, I took fifty-one images, moving fast without a tripod and using a lamppost to help support me and the camera. 

My F stop started at F13 at 1/6th of a second but I realized that I could not keep my hands steady enough at that speed. At 1/8 and F10, I was getting a pretty sharp image and the exposure was good, too. I settled into 1/20th of a second at F6 for awhile and as the natural light left, I went to F2.8 and 1/30. 

I took many images because I was always moving and looking for a better image and composition that worked best in horizontal and vertical. I tend to see landscapes more in horizontal but as you will see, I found a few I liked in vertical. I moved away from the bridge getting more and more of its expanse and then back again toward it. Another reason I moved away was to try and take most of the people out of the image. These are some of the images I made that night. In this first one, you can see some people.

In this next one, I changed composition in camera. I also used Photoshop's cloning tool to take a few people standing at the beginning of the walkway out of the shot. 

These two images (above and below) are pretty close to being the same but I zoomed my lens out in the second one to include a closer view of the beginning of the bridge and less of the shoreline on the other side.

     You can see a slight change in the exposure in these two.

        The one below is my favorite of the horizontal images.

These are a few verticals. The one below was made after I changed
the exposure to allow more light in. It is my favorite vertical.

This last one was made after I walked back under the bridge. You can see people fishing in it.

What I loved about these images was the warm colors of the lights and the cool color of the night sky. I just really loved the contrast in them. I also loved the lines of the bridge, the strong lines that seemed to bend in my images. This was a scene that I saw for over six months and thought about a lot before taking the images. I knew what I wanted, how I wanted to highlight those colors and the lines. 

I thought about how I wanted to accomplish those goals, then when I arrived, there were people, some in bright white clothes. I had to adjust my composition and my exposures the whole time because of them. Not haphazardly but with a good knowledge of my tools and the eye I have developed over many years of photographing and making images.

This is not a post about amateurs, we all start out as one. This is more about what a pro is and what an amateur is and who you should hire. Would you hire someone with an Ipod and a speaker to provide the music at your event? If you would, then you might hire a photographer who has never shot an event for pay or who has one camera and a zoom. He might tell you that with this great zoom lens, he can get all your images. He might show you six to twelve good images. But if this is one of the most important days in your life, is that who you want to trust with your memories? Do you want images you will proudly show your kids or the pictures that will stay in the closet? It is up to you!!!


Aaron said...

It has been awhile since I have been here (sorry for that). Your pictures in this post were truly stunning, as always. I completely agree with you in the definition of an amateur and pro. I think you may have missed one designation, hobbyist. I like to think I am much better than an amateur and have complete mastery of my camera....with that said I know I am not a pro and don't think I would have the courage to take money to shoot an event.
Looking forward to future posts :)

JIM said...

Hi Aaron, I believe, for the point I was making, a hobbyist is an amateur. I understand your point but my main problem is with someone who does not have the experience and talent, calls himself a pro and even worse charges people as pro would. In that situation there are only two designations Pro or Amateur. I understand that you have more talent then most amateurs but you realize that your not ready to go pro ( maybe someday and maybe soon) and you do not try and pass as one,putting someone's wedding memories in jeopardy.

Aaron said...

That is fair. I can agree with you completely on that point. I think I could proabably one day make a jump but I wouldn't do it until I had worked as a backup photographer for awhile so I could work on my vision and poses I like without putting the couple's memories in jeopardy. My problem is I like primes too much, could be a problem or make for a real unique vision :)
until then I will keep snapping my street stuff :)

I agree with you completely that the distinction between a pro and amateur is their vision, adaptability, and unique style.

JIM said...

For yeast wedding photographer only used primes ( I'm sure some still do) The zoom lets you carry one or two cameras instead of three or four!! You can get most of the images but it really opens up your opportunity if you can go from 17 - 55 with a flick and not steps. Could help you get an image you would miss when changing cameras. If your in the back of the church shooting a wide angle and something happens at the alter it is much easier to zoom.

Bec Owen said...

A very informative post, Jim, and I can see your point in making the distinction between amateur and professional.

I always look forward to visiting your blog and the visual feast I know will await me. Once again, your images are absolutely stunning!

Thank you for sharing your talent and expertise with us!

Nelieta said...

Jim your stories always put a smile on my face! Man, that is a mean fish your wife has on her plate!

I am sure a wedding photographer has a lot of challenges and needs to have nerves of steel! Great photos! Do you shoot the night photos with a tripod?

sukanya said...

i like to take pictures but i am a hobbyist or amateur as you call it...i need to learn the craft of photography. have you ever considered teaching it to other people? your pics are alaways amazing!
and that grouper looks so yummy...only in florida i guess you will get seafood of this quality.

Rimly said...

Those pictures are awesome. I loved the sunset ones and the ones of the bridge.How was the fish with Viagar btw? LOL!

fantacy in practicality said...

as always jim, the pictures you have clicked are spectacular. i loved the golden fried fish on green leaves. the pink sky also was different from all time skies that you project. the fainted sun-set gave a silent evening mood, the picture of the bridge taken from far distance was great. you are really a master of photography:))

lakwatsera de primera said...

As an enthusiast, I always look for ways to improve my craft. I read online tips, study the work of the masters in photographic history and enrol on photography classes that interest me. Photography is all about creating image in your mind and once you master the technical aspects of it, it would be easier to explore its creative side.

Alpana Jaiswal said...

this is phenomenal..I loved the pictures..the colors are so if I am looking at them with my own eyes...I am so happy to see the way u are providing so much of valuable information,all the photographers should take advantage of this..

Jim said...

I quite agree with you JIM on distinguishing amateur and professional. It's very much like my craft where I custom make footwear as a living. Now there's some crafty types around who may also make basic sandals or even sloppy shoes as a hobby but they are just not in my field of expertise because they don't know the full field of footwear making, nor have the investment in machinery and equipment...and they wouldn't know how to use them either.
So when it comes to photography I would never call myself a professional... I have to much respect for those like yourself who are.
Meantime, I'll just try and move up a notch from amateur to hobbyist.
Another good post and great pics!

JIM said...

Thank You All for your comments. I am happy to see that this post was understood in the way That I had hoped it would be. I want more and more people to becomes interested in photography. I also want them to actually study it and to act responsibly when determining when they call themselves pros and when they start charging people for their services..Once again thank You all


melissa said...

With this issue on Pro and Amateur, I remembered what my sister and I were discussing. Not everybody who holds a camera is a professional. Some may have the talent, others the skill... but I do agree with the vision. Where does the photographer leads the viewer?

I've learned a lot journeying with your images. You've shown me a different way of viewing images and appreciating them. I really do not understand the technicalities but somehow reading them from your posts gives me ideas and I could ask my sister to show me what they are.

I know what I'd like to see in the photos and how I want them to appear... which angle..what colors... it does take a lot of patience so I laud every photographer I've worked and come across with.

I liked how you enhanced the images. The warm soft glow of the bridge became more evident at the last part... the streaks of sunlight behind the tree and the cloud showing a bit of color also made the scene more dramatic and more appealing to the eyes...

Well, even artists discuss how people could put things together and call them art... hmmm... it takes 'eyes' to truly see and 'vision'.

I loved your post...

Jerly said...

wow jim, uv explained it so well in both words and picture differences

Dangerous Linda said...

Hi, Jim! --

I agree that "vision" is the most important skill a photographer brings to his/her craft. After 20 years as a professional fine art photographer I'm still not as technically savvy as I wish I were.

Your pictures from "date night" with your wife are beautiful and make me want to "photo safari" with the two of you ;-)

In the meantime, I at least need to dine at a harbor this weekend! Just looking at your images I could hear the sounds of the boats rocking in the harbor and the seagulls screaming ...

Healing Morning said...

This information and all the examples fascinate me! It also lets me know that I'll probably never go beyond the amateur level with photography, because all the technical stuff starts to make my eyes glaze over. I learned a great deal from this article, and I'm going to share it with some friends who are in the beginning phase of learning basic techniques. Thank you for sharing all of this with us, Jim! :)

- Dawn