In the beginning, there was business…

Unlike most photographers in the world, like this lot, Sian and I didn’t really get into photography through a ‘passion’ or ‘burning desire’.  We needed jobs.

Long story short we had both had a pretty rough year.  We had some bad news within the family, a company that I had been commissioned to write a play for went bust, Sian hated her job in the city and a dear friend of ours was murdered.

We were pretty keen to put the bad times behind us, and as luck would have it we stumbled across an opportunity to join Colorbox onboard a number of cruise ships as photographers.  We leapt at the chance.

This was the first ship we joined – the Thomson Destiny.  Originally built by Royal Caribbean and sailing as ‘The Song of America’, she soon became outdated and was bought by Sun Cruises, to sail as ‘The Sunbird’.  Then Louis Cruise Lines got their mits on her and now lease it to Thomson.  She’s an old rust bucket, but a great, great ship, and we had so much fun on there…

Anyway – when we started as photographers on the cruise ships, there was no question about us ‘fuelling a passion’, ‘creating images that linger on the mind’ or any other of the wank cliches that seem to litter the internet these days.  We were there to take pictures and sell them.  It was aaaalll business.

Now this isn’t high brow stuff.  Sure, you get to go to amazing places and take pictures like this:

which is epic and totally, totally awesome, but your job is to be efficient, friendly and my God CONSISTENT!  When you are printing 6000 photos in one night you HAVE to trust that, despite which photographer on the team of six took the photograph, the exposure and cropping will be EXACTLY the same as that of the other 5 photographers – and this is where all the skill lies.   Every photo you take is potential earnings for you, the cruise line, and the company, and so there is a lot of pressure to get the shots right, in camera every time.  There is no chance to play with a photo later in a RAW editor, and there is certainly no chance to go back to the guests if you get the shot wrong and don’t notice at the time.

As an example, on formal night, we would need to take three pictures of the guests standing in their finery in front of a less-than-convincing backdrop of the Titanic Staircase…don’t ask.  Anyway, this backdrop would require a set of three photographs: a full length, a three quarter crop, and a horizontal.  These pictures are then printed with very minor color correction on the epic Fuji Frontier (A blog in the making – I assure you) The lighting and cropping of EVERY SHOT is determined by the photographer IN CAMERA.   Now, it sounds simple, but I have challenged some very experienced photographers to take 10 ‘sets’ and see how consistent they are – and I challenge you!  Get your mates together, and see how consistently you can reproduce the same three photographs throughout them all…it is actually very difficult.  Remember – you can’t crop in Photoshop, and all of your photos must have the same cropping throughout (Roughly a fifth of the frame at the bottom for the feet, and the same again at the top for the heads) To add to the difficulty, we’re dealing with studio lights, so if guests stand a cm forward or back, you risk overexposure, shadows and all other of drastic pitfalls that render the photo ‘unsellable’.

Unfortunately, as I don’t own the rights to any of the photos we took of guests while working on ships (and for some reason I cant find ANY of the millions that Sian and I had taken) I have bodged together a similar example for you to see.  This was from a shoot that I did when my cousin and sister in law (sounds incestuous because it is – ANOTHER BLOG to come on that) and our gorgeous nephew Ryan came to visit.  Obviously, on the Cruises we wouldn’t have 70 year olds giving each other piggy backs, but you get the idea – the cropping is all done in camera, exactly the same for every single shot.  It might sound stifling, but this strict disicipline taught Sian and I so, so much…

And this is where we started!  Unlike 99% of the photography world, we started out working to a business model, and we knew that every picture we took had the potential of making money…this is very upside-down to how photographers usually discover the love of their cameras; most start as hobbyists who then take the plunge to try and make money from their images, and it has definitely had an effect on us both on how we approach our photography.  We love taking pictures – and we love sharing them with our friends and family, but we always have, and I think always will come to our work from a business point of view.  The first ‘photo’ I ever took, I sold, and we have never looked back.  There is a notoriously grey area when artists go from making amazing work, to making amazing money, and the balancing act that artists go through to justify what they charge.  But I find it fascinating how quickly and happy people are to give away their work for nothing – especially when it comes to taking photos.  Here in Barbados, we are setting the standard for wedding photography – the guys (not me) produce amazing work. Seriously, it’ll blow your mind.  But we are in direct competition with people who will offer (very very possibly) as good quality work, but awfully finished for a tenth what we charge….and I don’t understand why these people sell themselves short.  Our work is CHEAP.  For about 390 quid our wedding couples get at about 90 minutes with an experienced, seasoned photographer.  These guys are out shooting pretty much every day – they know the light, they know the sites, and they are all great with the guests.  They then spend a good 5-6 hours editing the photos, present them to the couple who then pick their 24 favorites and we print them and put them in an album.  That is the very basic package, and in my eyes, an absolute bargain.

But there are people on the island who will shoot a wedding for $100BDS – that’s  about 30 quid.  And the guests are more than happy to pay that – for their wedding photos!  Now, call me old fashioned, but if you went to a garage and the mechanic said “I’ve replaced your discs and pads on all four corners, that’ll be $60″ (sorry, I don’t have a pound sign on my laptop) would you not think…”Hang on – that’s a bit cheap – where is this guy skimping here?”

Whenever I go to buy something, or receive a service, I have a rough idea in the back of my mind of what I expect to pay.  Should that figure be way off either way, I get very suspicious…very quickly.

And I wish that our guests would too.  I think the problem we have is that no one wants to quantify photography (despite our damnedest) and what it’s ‘worth’.  Pretty much everyone has a good camera these days, and it’s quite easy to get a well exposed and composed shot, but it doesn’t make you a ‘photographer’.  Just like when I cook a meal in the evening doesn’t make me a chef, giving someone a lift down the road doesn’t make me a chauffeur and wailing into a microphone at the karaoke doesn’t make me a singer.  So please, everyone – stop underselling your work.  If you’re good and want to make a career of it, charge fairly on what you think you’re worth.  If that worth is $75 for a day’s work and everything on a disc, you’re either not good enough or you have esteem issues.  If you think you’re days work and all the images on disc are worth $40,000, then best of luck, but you have to be competitive in this already saturated market.  And if you just ‘do photography’ at the weekend and offer to do your mate’s wedding for a fiver.  Stop.  Even if you do it with all the passion, focus and zeal in the world.  You’re just giving the rest of us a bad name.


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