Techniques, Reviews and Commentary

Performance Art

Now of course anyone with a bit of common sense will know that there is a bit more to taking great photos than the camera itself, the camera is a tool, pure and simple, it can no more create a great image than a guitar can create a great riff without someone talented enough to play it. But this point seems to get lost on a good many working photographers and most consumers, let me explain as I think this may be of help to the aspiring pro photographers I often have in my classes.

A repeating mantra I hear from pro photographers and come across on forums is that they need expensive, top drawer gear so they look different or better than the “Average Joe” at a wedding or other job. I suspect a lot of this is driven by the same motivations that drive us to want to own a Porsche or Mercedes, to para-phrase a well known Aussie media economics commentator, “we spend money we don't have to buy stuff we don’t need and can’t afford to impress people we don’t like”, but I digress.

Sorry to burst the collective bubble, but the reality is unless you can pop for some truly expensive and cumbersome medium format gear it is highly unlikely to guarantee you are going to “out do” the collected rabble at a wedding or any other event, there will always be someone there with more money than photo skills and thus carrying some ultra expensive Canikon and lenses.

But, and lets be clear on this, except for the super keen amateur with the fat wallet, do we really expect that the great photographic unwashed have any idea of the difference between say a Nikon D3 and D60. The only one you are going to impress is the cashed up gear-head and in the scheme of things, who cares?

If you want to create the impression of being the “pro photographer” you will be judged on one thing only whilst on the job....your performance! That’s right you need to be a performer.

Many times I have had students tell me about the great professional photographer they saw at a wedding, they never mention the gear he/she had, all they talk about is the way the photographer conducted themselves. Things like, how they kept everyone smiling, how they worked so quickly, that they knew how to pose folk just right and had the right thing to say at the right time. How much at ease they seemed to be with their gear, how they seemed to get shots without being a pest, that they obviously knew how to deal with the light and were unfazed by difficult guests, brides etc.

Trust me pros are seen as pros not because of the gear but by the way they go about their job, give a good pro a pocket camera and it will still be obvious to all and sundry they are the pro!

Think about it, imagine you handed a rough old guitar to John Butler or Tommy Emmanuel, chances are they would tune it and then knock out a killer tune, sure they may produce a slightly better sound with a truly great guitar but in the scheme of things we are just talking small degrees.

What about other arts, does a brush make a painter, a lathe make a woodworker, a script make an actor, the answer is so obviously no, but somehow somewhere along the way the whole photography area as an art and profession has been hijacked by marketing and equipment envy. It seems to have become a race of one-upmanship.

If you want to be a better photographer in any sense, remember the gear is of little consequence but your “on the job” performance is everything. If you can’t find your way around your camera, if you can’t see the potential mage in front of you, if you can’t control the things you need to control, if you can’t appreciate the nuances of light, if you can’t put your subjects at ease, you can spend all the money you like on gear but you are never going to convince those that count that you are indeed “the professional photographer” of the event.

Of course if you have the money to buy great gear and you find it helps get better images under the conditions you work with, then fine, invest as you see fit, but let’s just not confuse the issues.

Sadly I see way too many “pros” spend all their profit to buy gear to make them look like “the pro” and never come to grips with the concept of “on the job performance as an art”.

I feel pretty sure that until todays photographers come to realize that photography is actually a performance art and treat it as such they are going to struggle to win back the market of the past. If we as professional photographers fall into the trap of thinking it is all about the gear, what have we got to offer the client as a point of difference?


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