Don’t Let “Pro’s” Shit on your Camera

Self Portrait

One thing I’ve learned while shooting on various sets and hanging around fellow photographers is that appearance is everything. Most sets contain huge space, a variety of lights and modifiers, and cameras with long lenses. It can be intimidating to people new to the game and it can be fascinating to those who know absolutely nothing about photography. I hate to say it and sound cliche but you have to fake it until you make it.

My very first set experience was with a photographer friend who kept telling me he knew a photographer who shoots for Def Jam and makes a lot of money. At that time I felt like I was one of the best photographers in the city with my bed sheet I used as a background, my 18–55mm kit lens, and my speedlights on tripods. I honestly thought I would be the one showing him a thing or two about photography and how I edit. Upon arrival we had to wait about 15 minutes to get in because it was basically a warehouse converted into studio space for videos and photoshoots and it was occupied by other artists and directors and permission was needed to gain access. Once inside I knew I had a long way to go in my photography career.

The room could fit 100+ people easily and half of the set was painted green (for video) and the other half white for photoshoots. Beside the white set there was an area designated for equipment and all I saw were 30lb light stands, softboxes bigger than my car, and cardboard used to bounce light. I was in a whole new world.

He was shooting with a 5D Mark iii with a 70–200mm lens which I later found out costs more than my camera and all my equipment combined. After doing a few test shots he passed me his trigger and I attached it to my camera. The photo I took was absolutely amazing in my eyes. I had never seen my camera produce such a high quality image before photoshop or any type of editing. I showed him the picture and he immideatly said its distorted and could look better with a better lens. Initially it hurt my feelings because as an artist I’m sensitive about my shit but after he compared my image to his I could tell that my image was distorted and the model photographed looked longer than what she actually was. (2 hours after leaving the set I went to BestBuy and purchased a battery grip and 35mm prime lens and has been my primary lens since) I put my camera down and I just decided to use my friends camera the rest of the shoot because I was embarrassed and wanted to produce images like his.

That experience opened my eyes to new lighting techniques and I made it my priority to have crisp images every shoot that showed off the quality of my lens. I purchased a 3 strobe kit with softboxes and I went to work. I even stopped using sheets because I was tired of editing wrinkles and began to shoot on walls. My work immediately began to look more professional and after studying some of Peter Hurley’s work and how he set up his light, I found a style that worked for me. My 3 light setup leaves a “pyramid like” catch light and lit about 90% of the body evenly. The setup got me looks from many attractive models and published on a number of websites. My photos now had the “look” of a professional photographer.

What I noticed next is that other photographers whose work wasn’t as good as mine were getting more work and for the longest I couldn’t understand why until I went to a powershoot and posed as an onlooker rather than a photographer.

What I saw was dozens of photographers with fancy cameras and equipment “looking” like a photographer and acting as though they knew everything and that they were the shit.

Many even claimed to be multi-published photographers. They had me fooled until I walked over to a couple and asked to see what they’ve shot so far. So many images were dull with horrible composition. I could quickly tell they had no clue about how f-stop and shutter speed related to the strobes. They just kind of figured it out as they went. The icing on the cake was when I walked over to a “photographer” with a $40k Hassleblad who’s pics looked no better than when I first picked up a camera 3 years prior. The reason they were all getting so much work is because they all looked the part. Though they all sucked ass, they at least looked like they knew what they were doing and that was the difference maker. And for the Multi-Published photographers, the magazines they were in had no substance. Just half naked women being fooled into paying “photographers” to start their modeling career and getting the published. (It’s actually a quick and effective way to make money but we’ll save that for another entry)

Earlier this year I was approached by a marketing firm who claimed they worked for XXL. Peeped game and later saw that they were just buying ad space in many magazine publications and selling them to the unknowing claiming that the firm could get them into that specific magazine. I decided not to take the job because the numbers didn’t add up to me and I’m not quite sure if they were telling the truth or not but I did purchase the next XXL and didn’t see anything from them.

During the consultation the lady in charge liked my work and was all for me shooting it but she was more caught up on the number of celebrities I’ve shot. That irritated me because I’ve taken thousands of images but the only ones she cared about were the celebrities. She told me that it’s her job to cater and to give the artists coming to the shoot the best experience they could have (basically kiss their ass) and to make everything look over the top. Me and my 3 lights could get the job done just fine but she was wanting the experience I had when I first stepped on a professional set. She wanted me to rent more lights and just have them set up even if I wasn’t using them. Financially that didn’t make sense because I would’nt be reimbursed but I understood where she was coming from.

If you look the part you can fake it til you make it.

I say all of that to say this, you don’t need expensive equipment to take a great picture. Your basic DSLR is capable of doing way more than film cameras back in the day. Getting published today really has nothing to do with camera despite popular belief. Many early fashion publications including Vogue were shot with film cameras and iconic images were created. I can comfortably stand next to any photographer no matter what camera they have and not be intimidated. If we were to shoot side by side, same number of images, and same subject; I could go shot for shot because I understand light and how to create a flattering image. Your image can look exactly the same as your favorite photographer given the same circumstances.

In my opinion photography is how the photographer freezes the subject with light. If I’m in studio with someone with a 5d and we both are using the same lighting source we can produce similar if not identical images. Their quality may be a tad better because of the sensor but to the naked eye they won’t be able to tell the difference. Invest in a decent body but pay more attention to your lens and lights.

Don’t let pro’s shit on your camera because many of them (especially in Atlanta) just look the part and have no clue what they’re doing anyway.
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