Monday, April 23, 2018

No, Your Smartphone Has Not Made You a Photographer

Taking beautiful photos on your smartphone is a snap, but has the art of photography been devalued as a result?  ♦ 
It goes without saying that you can take some fantastic photos on your smartphone—new phones have increasingly more megapixels, larger apertures, and better sensors. Apps like Fotor, Afterlight, and Snapseed make it easy to add filters to your smartphone pictures to get the effect you want. With increasingly accessible equipment and software, where do the professionals come in anymore? Professional photographers have dedicated themselves to their craft and have a significant investment of time and money into their work. With an in-depth understanding of concepts like framing, lighting, and composition—along with professional equipment that cannot be matched by multi-purpose devices—their skills are far superior to any hobbyist.

Just as bad, if not worse, is how easy it has become to share, and in some cases edit and alter, photos found online. With friends and family posting cute, share-worthy pictures every day, to say nothing of organizations, businesses, and publications constantly generating and sending out photo content, we put less and less thought into where those photos actually come from. If from a professional, they might not even know about or consent to their photo being used outside of their website and social media accounts.

The tools we have at our disposal to take share photos are incredible, but these tools have had a negative impact on the photography profession’s good name and even their businesses’ bottom lines. So what can individuals do in this age of clicking shutters and instant shares to help protect not just photographers but photography as a whole?

Recognizing the Costs of Photography

First, it would be good to have an understanding of what it takes, financially, to become a professional photographer. Here is a rough breakdown of the equipment needed1:

Nikon D750 camera body (2)

  Nikon 35mm f/2.0
  Nikon 50mm f/1.8
  Nikon 85mm f/1.8
  Nikon 70-200 f/2.8
Camera flashes (2)
Computer and software

  21” iMac computer
  Backup hard drive (2)
  Screen calibrator
  Adobe suite
Miscellaneous gear
Business essentials

   Accounting services
   Client management
   Product samples


So equipment is a significant startup cost, one that has to be earned back from taking on work and making sales. With amateur photography and the improper use of artists’ work cutting into the professionals’ bottom lines, this initial investment becomes an increasingly difficult expense to recover.

Recognizing the Craft

Skill is another important investment, and this involves much more than knowing when to click a button. Many professional photographers get a college degree in the craft, so you can add to the above list the cost of a degree. Years are spent learning and mastering not only taking photos, but editing them too. In fact, it is almost unheard of for a professional final image to be un-edited, and no app filter can substitute a professional edit from someone who has spent uncountable hours learning this part of the craft.
   Below are some before-and-after examples of straight-out-of-camera images next to their final edits.

Displaying Example 1 w.jpg   | Correction: Over-exposed image. 

Displaying Example 2 w.jpg    | Correction: Black background. 

Displaying Example 3 w.jpg    | Correction: Fixing a subject's eyes. 

Displaying Example 4 w.jpg    | Correction: General touch-up. 

While filters are a wonderfully quick and easy tool for hobbyists to alter their photos, they can never replace the expertise professional photographers have in producing quality images.

Protecting Copyright

Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, photographs are protected by copyright from the moment of creation. What that means is from the moment the photographer presses their shutter button and takes the image, they own the copyright on it. Even if you have hired a photographer and/or are the subject of the image you have no claim on the copyright. Most photographers use a print release, meaning limited permission for clients to print the photos while they, the photographer, maintain ownership of the images. The only rights a subject has is that the photographer cannot sell any images of a person which clearly have their face identified without a model release from that person.

With the prevalence of sharing images online, many photographers now use what is called a watermark. Though from a legal standard it is completely unnecessary, photographers that use that put a watermark on their images see it as a last line of defense. Watermarks range from the standard format of © (Year) (Photographer’s Name) to more artistic marks like the company’s logo or the photographer’s signature. All the different watermarks serve the same purpose of trying to discourage the stealing of the image by either making it less appealing since it is marked or by being a final reminder that the image is not public domain.

Being an Ethical Consumer

So how is someone supposed to find images to use for their websites or projects that respect the artist? They have three possible routes: hiring a photographer, buying a stock photograph, or using a photograph in the public domain. Hiring a photographer is the priciest option, but it will give you full control of getting the perfect image for your needs. A lot goes into finding the perfect photographer, negotiating a budget, and having contracts written, so be sure to do your research before diving into this option. Buying stock photographs is perhaps the best option, and there are millions to choose from between sites like iStock, Shutterstock, and Bigstock, so odds are you can find an image to suit your needs for a reasonable fee. Finally, you can search for an image in the public domain. Photographers occasionally deed works to a CC0 1.0, known as a Public Domain Dedication. This means:
The person who associated a work with this deed has dedicated the work to the public domain by waiving all of his or her rights to the work worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law. You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission2.

Free-to-use photographs can be found at sites like Pexels, Unsplash, and Burst.

In this new age of copy and paste, where images can be altered and shared in only a few clicks, it pays to understand what you can and cannot do with images you find online. Respect the effort photographers put into their art by respecting their copyrights and use images appropriately. If you see an image on social media you would love to share, or that you might like to use on a website, send the photographer a message asking if it is alright. You will probably make their day by showing that you respect their craft.

  • About the Author
    Alexandria Tong is a sophomore Business Management and Leadership major with a Marketing minor and a thematic sequence in Photography. She has always enjoyed reading in her free time and can often be found in a study room enjoying the company of a good book and a 4 Paws for Ability service dog in training.

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