The Value of a Photograph

Recently I have been working with a large number of photographers, many of them just completing school or otherwise emerging into the profession.  This post is for their benefit.

Consider for a moment a world without pictures.  It would be almost a world without beauty.

There is perhaps no other product that is as versatile as a photograph.  It can record a moment in history, whether tragic or uplifting; preserve the memories of children growing up, or the beauty of your wedding day in a way no other media can.  And while there are those who try to tell us otherwise, the image is almost always a very large part of the reason you purchase any of the various products and services that you consume.

Unfortunately, the power of the image is being largely taken for granted in today’s world.  And by this I don’t mean just any image, I mean the power of a well composed, technically and artistically perfect professional photo.

Imagine for a moment going to the grocery store and looking down the magazine rack where none of the magazines had photos on the cover.  Would you bother to look?  Not likely.  What if within the magazine itself there were no photographs?  How long would Vogue, Cosmo, Muscle and Fitness or Car and Driver hold your attention if there were no photos?  Would you pay money for the magazine?  Not a chance.

Now let’s work our way over to the frozen food isle.  Would you buy the package of frozen lasagna if it didn’t have a mouth watering photo of the product on the cover?  That answer is no.  Now, consider there are 4 or 5 brands of lasagna all new to you.  Which will you choose?  The one with the most appetizing photo on the box.

Step next door to the entertainment store.  Look at the music CD covers.  How interesting would they be without a photo?  What about the movies?  Does the photo on the jacket influence your decision to buy?  Yes it does.

I think you get the point and can easily expand on the ways the photograph literally moves the world.  And outside of the commercial world that value does not change.  The value of a fine art portrait that will grace a room with its beauty for many generations to come.  The priceless value of freezing a history making moment in time, such as the launch of the first rocket to the moon.  And consider the value of being able to look back at a wedding with the full beauty of the moment captured.

All of these things are priceless… yet the emerging photographer often finds that his dreams to make it big creating powerful and beautiful images are used against him.  “Pay your dues” or “this is great free exposure” or simply “this will be great for your portfolio” can seem to be the only words he/she hears.

If you listen you will soon come to believe that not only are your images worthless but that you yourself have nothing of value to contribute to the world…   at that moment, your dream will become your sorrow.

That is of course a lie and it is why I am writing this post.  Take a moment to understand what your contribution to the world is worth.  Then, take the time to learn professional practices so you can demand the world gives back to you what you give to it.

Only then can you enjoy your creativity.  Contrary to what the critics say, invalidation, poverty, hardship and sorrow do not contribute to the creation of great art… these things only destroy artists and they will only happen to you if you allow it.

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