The Cult of Cheap

The Bride and Her PartyToday I read a great article on PetaPixel regarding the all too common prenuptial outcry about how outrageously expensive wedding photography is. Rather than justifying his fees to customers by providing an overall expenses list, wedding photographer Pavel Kounine prefers a different approach. He clarifies the difference between getting married and “holding a wedding,” and points out that the latter is actually a luxury… and an expensive one at that. Succinctly put, he writes:

The major expenses are everything that isn’t part of the official ceremony: the venue(s), liquor and multi-course meals for guests, a multi-tiered cake, flowers, decorations, entertainment, your wardrobe, makeup and hair, accommodations, and… your desire to have a wedding photographer document the entire affair and do so with exceptional artistry.

While Kounine’s argument holds merit, I think the problem goes much much deeper, especially where everything and anything creative is concerned. This perpetual baulking about price speaks to the disturbing devaluation of art and artists of all kinds in a world where outsourced knockoffs (Chanel handbag clones included) can be had for a buck at Walmart or elsewhere. Many people also believe that they are entitled to free music and movies (acquired illegally on the Internet), and besides… everybody with a smartphone can be a ‘photographer’ on Instagram [insert sarcasm here] so $3,000 for a professional wedding photographer?!!!?!! OMIGAWD!!!

The sad truth is that today’s values have been shaped by a financially driven, corporately designed, disposable mentality and lifestyle where consumers have been conditioned to endlessly consume cheap shit, thus keeping the 1% rich and laughing all the way to the bank. They have created a society that is addicted to dopamine inducing sales and deals, where the true and horrific costs of such are unscrupulously hidden from view. All of us, whether we want to admit it or not, have fallen victim to the cult of cheap.

Given our current situation, wedding photographers continue to struggle (as do creators in all media)… so when it comes to securing contracts, I suppose it is simply more prudent to point out the “luxury” rationalization to an emotional bride-to-be rather than argue with her the psychology of the corporate conspiracy to manipulate the masses and cheapen everything on the planet. In the end, we all pay one way or another.

Disclaimer: Although I captured the photo above at my niece’s wedding, I am not a wedding photographer. Kudos to her for hiring accredited photographer, David Fong, who did an amazing job capturing the magic of the day from beginning to end.

Tutorial: When to Choose Monochrome

In my previous post I talked a little about why a black and white version of a photo is sometimes preferable to the original colour version. Below is an example (click on the thumbnails to enlarge) and explanation of a few handy points to keep in mind in your own photography.

In this photo taken at my niece’s outdoor wedding, while the bride and her friends look quite lovely in colour, there is a lot of stuff going on around and behind them, some of it in strong primary colours. The result is a busy composition, which has the unwanted effect of robbing attention away from the three pretty faces in this impromptu portrait. While most photos benefit from a little cropping, in this case it would not eliminate the red lanterns above their heads, nor the blue tent awning. The middle woman’s yellow sash also interacts with the other colours, making them even more prominent. This is a classic case where converting to monochrome makes all the difference in the world, and combined with a little cropping, the shift in focus is directed to right where it needs to be – on their smiling faces.

I was asked today if my camera has a monochrome setting, and whether I use it. Yes it does, and no I don’t use it. Professionals suggest that you always shoot in colour, and make the decision later during post-editing. This makes sense because just as some photos are more impressive in black and white, others don’t work as well and actually NEED to be in colour. This is what I’ve been studying and practicing all summer, and the results have taken my work to a whole new level.

Questions to ask yourself when assessing a photo:

  • What is the most important thing about this photo?
  • What should be emphasized?
  • What should be de-emphasized?
  • Will cropping help to eliminate extraneous objects or people that are distracting from the intended subject of the photo?
  • Am I following the rule of thirds?
  • Are there simple colour harmonies enhancing the composition, or crazy random colours everywhere undermining the focal point and subject of the photo? (Note: sometimes it’s just one harsh colour off to the side that’s throwing everything off.)
  • Would converting to monochrome make this photo really pop? Try it. If it’s not working, switch it back to colour.

Because my background is in fine art, and I’ve studied colour theory and the elements and principles of design, I know that it’s an advantage for me where photography and photo-editing are concerned. Still with a little knowledge, and a discriminating eye, anyone can aspire to make their photos the very best that they can be!

In closing, I would like to add that photographers using older, traditional materials and methods (developing photos in chemical baths in the darkroom) utilized many techniques to improve their final results. They played with contrast, dodged or burned areas in order to compensate for over or under-exposure, and had a variety of darkroom tricks to make their images great. Today’s professional photographers use photo-editing software (digital darkrooms) such as Adobe’s Lightroom or Apple’s Aperture to accomplish the same thing and more. The magic is indeed alive and well in today’s digital world, and I love it!

While this post has focused primarily on situational portraits, my previous post examines the monochrome landscape.

I would love to hear about your work, challenges, and triumphs in photography, so please feel free to leave a comment! ML

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