This post comes with text heavy warning!
We work in an industry that is so overrun with competition it’s ridiculous. Every man and his dog now own a camera - be it a DSLR, a point and shoot or a phone camera - ok maybe the dog doesn’t own one but you get my point. Everybody is a photographer.
But it’s not just that everybody is a photographer, everybody is also a videographer and with more and more user friendly / lite editing programs being made available, everybody can also edit a video.
Presets on camera phones, on 3rd party apps, on photo editing software gives everyone the ability to produce some pretty cool stuff; sometimes even some show stopping stuff.
We’ve lost count of the number of times someone has said ‘yeah but those photos you take are only that good because you use an expensive camera’. This is probably one of the most insulting things you can say to a photographer. Rupert is always ready with the perfect response for this one, he says ‘give me your camera phone and I’ll take a better picture on that than you can take on my expensive camera’. You see it isn’t about the gear, it isn’t about how much you spend or how long you take fixing something in post, it’s actually all about composition and experience. Some people have the knack with composition and some people can learn it. Composition is the difference between a good photo and an outstanding photo. This also applies to film.
We are so privileged in many ways to see heart stopping composition in series on Netflix and Amazon (and not forgetting the BBC), such as Preacher, Hand of God and American Gods (ok so I’m sensing a religious theme here but go with me on this one). HBO have made some stunning series over the years too and let’s not forget how epic Game of Thrones is. Yes there is CGI, yes there is green screen involved but the shots and the finished film are all somebody’s vision and composition. The lighting in the shows is nothing short of breathtaking.
I remember waxing lyrical recently about a scene from Hand of God where Crystal Harris is sitting in a cafe having not seen her husband for a while (I won’t spoil the plot) and the light is early morning, dust particles gently float in the morning sunshine, she’s drinking coffee, the light isn’t too warm but it is definitely setting the mood. The dialogue is sparse, the composition and lighting choices have set the tone. Pernell Harris is in the cafe and he has sent something over to his wife via the waitress (she doesn’t know he’s there yet) and when she realises that her husband has sought her out the camera tracks across on a wide shot as she looks up to get a visual on Pernell. The camera tracks past some stained glass, putting the glass between the camera and Crystal. As Crystal’s reaction to her husband’s presence appears on her face the camera is moving past pale blue glass and it seems to drain Crystal’s face and entirely changes the mood of the moment, almost as if you are feeling her heart sink. Then the coloured glass is warmer again as the camera moves on but you know the mood cannot return to the start of the scene; there has been a shift and all thanks to the subtleties of lighting and framing. The effect is perfect.
When a photographer produces a shot that is emotive it is perfection itself and that shot may not always be entirely in focus but that may be the point of it. It is like listening to a song where the vocal isn’t perfect but you can hear the feeling in every note. You don’t want to make that note perfect and suck the life out of it you want the rawness, you want the very thing that made you feel what that song was written about - or the very thing that made you relate to it. The perfect shot is not always crystal clear, it can be whatever evokes a feeling, stirs a passion, makes you go back to it time and again. You have caught a moment.
When I started writing this article what I really wanted to write about was how all of the skills I have been describing above are taken for granted and not given their proper value. We work in all sorts of areas from music to film, from car photography and products, to live stage performance photography; it is very varied and we see into many different industries. There will always be someone willing to work for free to bolster their portfolio - something I think we’ve all been guilty of from time to time. The trouble with this though, is that a true professional who has spent years learning their craft is constantly devalued or doesn’t get the respect they deserve. Experience is worth paying for.
The image your business or your band or whatever you are promoting puts out to the rest of the world is one of the single most important things you can buy. Don’t underestimate the value of a carefully thought out photograph or video. We do judge a book by it’s cover these days, we are instant decision makers, consider your own online habits and 9 times out of 10 you will subconsciously buy something based on a great image or a professional look regardless of the text that accompanies it.
Take the time to make something artistic and professional; bring the right people with the right skills to the table and your imagery will stand the test of time. Trust creative judgement, trust the experience, knowledge and expertise a professional has and see what a difference it makes; and never forget the triangle!