FREE PHOTOS ARE LIKE FREE ADVICE: EASY TO COME BY, NOT WORTH MUCH
If you have ambitions that require some kind of marking or promotion using photographs, unless your photos are good enough you are essentially wasting your time. If you rely on getting photos for free from somebody who is a camera owner rather than an an actual photographer, you will be disappointed. If you think other people are going to respond to your pictures just because you like the way you look, you will not be successful. If you rely on getting promotional and marketing photos for free, they will be worth every penny you pay for them. If you think images are “good enough,” unless you are an experienced photographer, art director or somebody else with special training, they probably aren’t.
If you are an actor or model, some kind of competitor in fitness, figure, physique, bikini or bodybuilding, relying on good enough images to promote yourself is like hoping for rain when you’re stranded in the middle of the desert. It can happen – but don’t count on it.
Nowadays, a lot of people want creative content for free, but this only works in certain instances. Photos are not like music. Nowadays it is possible to download a lot of music for nothing or next to nothing using services like iTunes. But in the case of music downloads you are just a consumer. You can bet the music creators paid a lot of money to make those recordings. So did the studios and production companies that produced the movies you watch. Even the “free porn” sites feature content that somebody else paid for. It might const little or nothing to consume various kinds of content, but it is expensive to create it.
If you are a fan of Lady GaGa you see her for free on YouTube. You can use Google or Bing images to assemble a whole library of photos of her. But, again, you are just being a consumer. Somebody had to pay for the better images you see of Lady GaGa or Justin Timberlake or whoever else. These pictures are worth something to those involved like the performer, the magazines, or video companies, even though they make be distributing this content for free. The fact is, if you create enough of an audience you eventually make money one way or the other. Because audience = consumer.
In real life, there isn’t much you actually get for free. You certainly don’t expect free rent, free food, free cars or auto maintenance. Your clothes aren’t free, nor is your gas and electric or electric devices like computers and television sets. If you need to have head shots or promotional 8X10s printed, you’ll have to pay for them.
If you need photos for your own use, just to put on social media and share with friends, you are an image consumer – and free photos are usually good enough for this purpose. Camera phones nowadays can shoot spectacular photos (especially when being used by a pro photographer). So shoot away. But if you need pictures to promote and market a product, service or your career, have some professional or business use you intend to put them to, you need to make some kind of investment to achieve any success.
The fact that nowadays photographic images are so easy to come by is part of a recent revolution in the technology of photography. There has been a total change in image making in the past 10 to 15 years. First came digital photography. Starting in the 1830s, photography was done on some kind of chemical recording medium. Primarily film – first BW and then color. For most of this time the processes involved were technically complex and photographers needed to be highly trained. Kodak introduced the roll film “point and shoot” Brownie in the 1890s which allowed people to create snapshots. This took a lot of business away from professional photographers but they were still required for high-end jobs such as advertising, fashion, product shots, magazine layouts, quality landscapes and the like.
Digital photography has changed all this. No knowledge of darkroom processes are required to shoot digital. No special, esoteric knowledge. Digital cameras capture what comes through the lens on some kind of electronic recording medium. When you shoot in jpeg format the camera software does the initial processing for you. The digital image can be instantly viewed on a camera screen and uploaded to a computer. The uploaded image can be processed, altered and corrected using software like Photoshop. As long as you are dealing with the basics, this is not a difficult skill to learn. Digital photography is generally far more forgiving than shooting on film. The cameras themselves are so highly automated that they shoot “pretty good images” (PGIs) on their own a high percentage of the time. Add to this the growth of the Internet, where literally millions of photos are uploaded every day, and the world has become so flooded with pictures that any individual image tends to get drowned out in the “noise.”
So if you are trying to promote and market a product, service or an individual career, no matter how many PGIs you publish and upload it is not likely that anyone is going to pay much attention. For example, I have seen many young aspiring models or fitness competitors who find somebody willing to shoot PGIs of them, using some kind of digital camera (even an automatic point and shoot) and are then thrilled because the image is sharp, in focus, has nice color and is a good representation of what they look like. Their friends, family and admirers love the picture. So do their Facebook friends. So they are very happy with the process and the result.
The problem is, in terms of promotion and marketing, they have accomplished almost nothing. PGIs just get lost in the noise, the world at large doesn’t notice or remember them (in the vast majority of cases), they have no lasting impact on viewers and do careers and promotional efforts no good. They are vanity images – with no more important than having your portrait shot at a local commercial photographer and putting a framed print of it on your wall at home.
PGIs work for many things. If you have a small business and want to advertise it on a local website chances are your nephew with a Canon Rebel can shoot a perfectly acceptable image for you. The same with most head shots used on the Web, brochures and business cards. High quality professional images or fine art are not required and would have no more impact than what is essentially a snap shot.
So this has essentially taken the “middle” out of professional photography. An experienced photographer can supply images for this kind of need, but less able shooters with a digital camera and a small amount of Photoshop knowledge can fill this kind of need with PGIs and do it very cheaply. You need a highly trained mechanic to fix the fuel injection system on your car, but it doesn’t take much technical knowledge to change a tire. A school nurse can put a bandage on a small cut with no problem. A doctor is not necessary.
But high level photography is still required for many purposes. Photo celebrity Annie Leibovitz is not a multi-millionaire by accident. If a major ad agency is setting up a photo shoot for a top brand name fashion company, the final ad buy might easily be millions of dollars, so spending thousands on getting just the right images is just the cost of doing business. Photographers who do portraits of major celebrities or create the images to promote blockbuster movies or CD covers for the most famous musicians all get paid extremely well. In these cases quality is absolutely necessary because so much money is at stake.
Unfortunately, in the fitness industry and in the lower levels of the entertainment and modeling business this is not often appreciated. Fitness and bodybuilding magazines, advertisers, individual models and competitors in this world too often settle for PGIs. Here is a test: how many of the photos they publish would you like to have blown up and printed poster size to put on your wall? How many of those posters could you look at day after day without getting tired of them? Or how about this: how many of these photos will you remember in a week, a month, a year or two? Do these images stick in your mind and memory? Do they change the way you think or feel about the subject in the image? Do these photos matter to you, make any difference to how you think or react?
The photos Annie Leibovitz does for Vanity Fair and others are displayed in art galleries and collected into books.
If you don’t remember them, if they don’t move you and stick in the mind, pictures are probably just PGIs – perhaps technically excellent, maybe shot by a skilled photographer and beautiful retouched. Maybe not. The point is, if no body cares, nobody reacts, nobody notices the time, effort and expense involved have been wasted.
When should you shoot photos for free – or on a trade-for-print basis? Well, this makes sense when you are starting out and just learning to pose and model. It takes practice to become good at anything. When you are first building a portfolio you are often going to have to settle for the best pictures you can get and then replace older images as you acquire new and better ones. You many not be able to afford to pay a good photographer or might simply not have access to one.
Of course, if your images bring value to the photographer than he is already being paid by being able to make use of your pictures. Contributing your modeling skills to the creation of valuable images is one way to compensate a photographer. In a case where you are modeling for a commercial photos, something that will be used to make money for advertisers or somebody else, then it is you that should be paid. But if you are already advanced as a model and in a position to work professionally you are probably not much in need of the information in this article. In that case, please pass it on to somebody not in your situation who will benefit from it.
But to sum up, if you have ambitions to being “noticed,” to getting people to remember and care about you, unless you plan on being extremely lucky (some people win the lottery), you need a deliberate strategy and campaign of self-promotion based on the best and more effective photos you can possibly get. Unfortunately, just finding a pro photographer to shoot them might not be enough. Photographers range in talent from good to bad and in between just like any other creative profession. Somebody very successful can mostly be shooting PGIs – just more technically sophisticated than the wanna-bees.
Finding the right photographer isn’t easy. But knowing you need to find one is the first necessary step.
Book a photo shoot with Bill by clicking here: Bill Dobbins Bookings
About the Author
Bill Dobbins is a photographer, writer, editor and videographer with a studio in Los Angeles. He was Founding Editor of Flex Magazine, Assistant to the Publisher at Muscle & Fitness, President of Weider Communications (video) and has written three books in collaboration with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was also the first photographer to specialize in photographing what he calls “fit and fabulous” women and has published two fine art books of his photos of them: The Women (Artisan) and Modern Amazons (Taschen). Bill’s photos of these women are available at www.billdobbins.com.
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