Category Archives: Myths

Dreams of Youth

Ponce de Leon Springs, FL 2013

Ponce de Leon Springs, FL 2013

There is a quote by Aristotle that says, “Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope.” I feel that youth is deceived because it believes that youth will last forever. Becoming older does not change this delusion; rather makes one try to chase it. Throughout history there were tales of some fountain where one could have youth restored to an otherwise aging body. There is a story that Ponce de Leon was chasing that dream when he came to Florida in 1511. The story is not true, or at the very least, there is no record directly attributed to de Leon where he mentions it, but it has worked its way into the lore of Florida history. It is funny to me that there are several “documented” locations for the Fountain of Youth throughout the state, when the story goes that he never actually found the fabled spring.

Over the past couple of years I have photographed five different locations that try to attach Ponce de Leon to the myth of the Fountain of Youth. Each has its own historical marker that “proves” the fact that de Leon actually found the spring of healing waters at that particular location. The truth is that he did not find, nor did he even look for the fountain. Fact or fiction has never been a bother to Florida when it comes to an opportunity to attract northern tourist to the state. Beginning in 1511, Florida has treated visitors to its wonders, both actual and those made up. In the advertising world this is referred to as “ballyhoo” and from the landing of Pomce de Leon to Disney the state has been steeped in it. Please do not get me wrong I am not criticizing, for me it is very much part of the charm of the state, and it is part of who we are. I just find it humorous that there are so many locations for something that was never found.

The picture at the top is for De Leon Springs State Park, where Ponce de Leon has become a marketing tool. The bus stop add for a laundromat shows the 16th century explorer holding up a pair of boxers, that  most likely  did not exists in de Leon’s day. The entrance to the state park bearing his name show him with his arm around a young lady in a 20th century styled bathing suite. In the end the ballyhoo is a fun aspect of the history of Florida and how sometimes myths work themselves into an accepted part of history. It is interesting to me that Florida has had to resort to ballyhoo to create its allure when the weather, lovely natural landscape, and friendly people should be enough.

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Myths III

Keeping it simple:

Yorktown, VA 2007

Yorktown, VA 2007

Some time ago I was approached by a student who was almost in tears and she said that she could not be the photographer she wanted to be because she did not have the high quality equipment that the other students had. It is important to note that she had a new high quality camera and lenses. I looked at her and said, “Most of my students have better equipment than I do, but who makes better pictures?” It is my contention that it is not the equipment, but how it is used. Most equipment other than the most basic types only offers convenience. Thinking that a more expensive camera will allow one to take better pictures is a myth.

Many of the best photographers from the history of photography were known for the simplicity of the equipment and processes they used. The idea is to know the equipment and process so well that it can become an extension of the photographer’s mind and soul. The photographer who can become so in tune with the equipment he or she uses that it becomes instinctive can then in turn spend a good deal more time and effort into what the photograph is about.

Becoming one with the camera, so to speak is easier said than done, but it is worth the effort. One question that I am often asked by students is how does one know what F-Stop and Shutter Speed to be used. A simple question, however, a difficult one to answer. Once the relationships between F-Stops and Shutter Speeds is learned, along with the relationships between other functions of the camera and how they affect the final picture, then the photographer can make the proper decisions as to what is selected. Without that understanding the photographer would have no idea which function to select and what role it would play in the final image. So maybe more effort should be spent learning the basics than spending money on the “bigger and better” camera.

The idea is to learn technique and then apply it to the making of a thoughtful image. Learning technique takes practice. Learning to make thoughtful photographs takes interest and curiosity. Both take passion, not only for photography, but also for the subject matter.

There are some basic ingredients needed. Some of those things will be inherent in the type of photography to be done. For example, I would not expect a nature photographer be able to work without a long telephoto lens, but it would be unnecessary for other kinds of photography. The important thing is to have what is needed and very little else. Learn how to use the equipment that is really needed and learn it inside and out. Then it is important to have a passion and understanding for the subject that will allow for a unique view of the subject that could only come from one person.

Simplicity is such an under used commodity in photography, but it is something that is such a major part of the most important photographs taken throughout the history of the medium.

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Myths II Photography for Free

To Be Paid or Not To Be Paid:

This is not the kind of thing that I thought that I would be talking about when I started this blog, but the question has come up so many times that I thought it might be a good thing to begin a discussion about.

 

North Florida Repo, 2009

North Florida Repo, 2009

 

I teach in a community art school where we look at photography as a fine art. While we do discuss the selling of artwork in some of my classes, some of my students are thinking about setting up their own business and do some sort of commercial photography in case this “Art thing” does not work out.  While most of my photography these days is self-directed, for a number of years I did have a commercial business and I do know something of commercial world.

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t get a call asking me to recommend a student to do a photo for some business or for someone who is getting married. The owner will want my best student as the photograph to be produced is going to be used in a very important ad. Then they will want the student to cover their own costs, in other words they want the student’s services for free and at their expense. The justification for this rather absurd point of view is saying that they are giving the student experience. On top of that they will ask for all rights to the photos to be used in anyway that they want, though the student may use the photos for their portfolio or website if credit is given. I should hang up on these jerks that want something for nothing, but the sad fact is that a number of my students would be perfectly happy to do this work for free. My advice is to them, if they are going to do a professional job then they deserve a professional rate. I have students all the time that tell me that they did something for a “friend” for nothing, because they can’t envision themselves charging anyone at this stage of their career, besides what would they charge?

There are two issues here and I would like to offer some thoughts about. First, the act of charging is a perfectly honorable thing to do when you provide a service. Often the student thinks that they are not ready to charge. If someone is asked to do a job, then the person doing the hiring thinks that there will be value to the work produced. If the work has value then compensation should be received. Most newcomers to the business of photography will charge too little just to get their first job. But that is a slippery slope because when the client comes back to the photographer for more work the rate has now been established and often times established too low.  It is very difficult to raise your prices. “How do I know what to charge?” is a question that I am often asked. There is no cut and dried answer as different types of photographic services charge different rates. Sometimes the client will tell you how much he or she will pay and you can accept or reject that amount. The big thing that any beginning commercial photographer can do is to do their homework. Business plans are a good place to start, as they will force the photographer to think about what kind photography is going to be done. Not only will a business plan help define the type of work the photographer is going to do, but also help him or her figure out what the cost are and to research what the going rates are. Once this has been done then when asked what the job costs then the photographer will have an answer that is given with confidence. The client can then accept or reject the rate.

The second is the “friend” who wants you and only you to do their family photo. What this “friend” does not tell you is that the only reason they only want you is not the quality of your images, but the fact that they know that you won’t charge a “friend.” I have no problem doing some things for free every photographer should have some pro bono work as part of their business. However the pro bono work is for a charity or an important cause not for some friend who is too cheap to pay for work. As part of your business plan you can come up with what circumstances you will do work for free. Otherwise all other pays, its company policy.

There are two skills that all photographers must have beyond photographic skills, and that is to know the value of their service and to be able to say no. It is a disservice to the honored profession of photography to give away or charge too little for your services. By charging too little for your photography services you make it more difficult for you to charge more and for other professionals to charge a fair rate for their labors. You don’t have to charge what the top shooters in town are making, but you do have to charge enough that you will profit enough to keep you in business. Photography is, after all a profession and deserves proper compensation and respect.

Every photographer has the first job where he or she is charging for his or her work. Each of those of those first jobs the photographer was nervous about whether or not the he or she was skilled enough to do the job. They usually were, the job went well, the client was happy and would freely pay the going rate for a professional job. It is how business is done.

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Myths

Over the next few months I will try to, from time to time talk about what I think are myths in photography.

Cotton Gin, Cottondale, FL 2002

Cotton Gin, Cottondale, FL 2002

 

 

The first myth that I want to talk about is the myth that photography is easy. This myth began around 1883 when George Eastman came out with the ad to help sell his first “Brownie” camera, “You press the button, we do the rest!” From that day forward photography has been marketed as something that is easy, if you only buy my camera, lens, etc. The odd thing is as time goes on the cameras profess to be easier and easier, yet the cameras have gotten more and more complicated. What has happened is the cameras have taken more and more of the control away from the photographer. Whether the camera takes the picture the way the photographer intended is more a matter of luck. Those who want to take more control of the picture taking process find the cameras more difficult to use. This is certainly true of digital cameras, where many of the cameras have 75 or more menu items for the photographer to adjust.

I have been teaching photography for over 20 years and it sometimes amazes me how much different my classes are then when I first started teaching. Because of the complexity of the digital cameras I find myself teaching more about camera menu adjustments rather than F-Stops and Shutter Speeds and other important photographic issues.

My point is not to try to turn back the clock, as I enjoy making photographs digitally and appreciate the many ways that the digital format allows me to do so much more photographically, but to try to make people understand that good photography is the result of a long investment in learning the craft. Digital or film, the art of photography starts with craft. In many cases that craft can be more automated, but not without the cost of control. I have said many times that the best photography is the merger of knowledgeable execution of the craft of photography along with a sensitive eye. And that is not easy!

There is an attitude by some that great photography can be done without effort, but that is simply not true. It is not easy to be where the image is going to be. It is not easy to know from all the compositional options that are going to best tell the story. It is not easy to know what combination of camera controls are going to render the image just the way that you would have intended. It is not easy to learn that there are options that the technical functions of the camera that have an affect on the image beyond getting the right exposure. It is not easy to become a person who has something to say and can do so visually. Those who say that photography is easy are leading you astray if it is your intention to make meaningful images. It is hard work and that effort should be respected.

In the movie, A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks says to Geena Davis, “If it was easy everyone would do it!” To be truthful, almost everyone can play baseball, but only a few put in the work that makes him or her really good. The same is true in photography. Only a few really put the work in to learn the craft and apply the craft to make worthwhile images. But I have to say that putting in the time to learn craft is not the end, it is the beginning. Good photography is a total package, where the merging of craft and vision come together to make images that are truly special. No camera can make that happen, it has more to do with what the photographer brings to the image.

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