The above is a photo of a bottle that me and Janine (my studio photographer at F8) recently took for a client.
Quite boring isn’t it? Though, technically it’s quite a good photo of an empty plastic bottle. There is an anecdotal reason for me showing you this picture, but I’ll get to that later. First I want to post a (slightly defensive) response(/rant) to a comment that was posted on my recent Sony A7rii review.
If you haven’t read that review, here is a link. But it might also be worth you reading this post about a ‘dad’ cam of yore. If you can’t be bothered to read either, the crux of the comment comes down to something I mention in both those posts; my definition of the what I call the ‘dad’ photographer.
In both these posts, I go some way to define what I call the ‘dad cam’. In brief, the ‘dad camera’ is designed to appeal to the ‘Dad’. The ‘Dad’ – as I say in the A7rii review – is the show-off guy who wants something that’s the best, but because he has no knowledge of a subject, can only guess what best by what has the highest value and highest levels of functionality…
I intended this to be fairly tongue-in-cheek, but actually, I stand by it. I’ve met these sorts of people – in some contexts, I probably am one myself – what I didn’t so much anticipate was one finding and taking umbrage with my definition…
The following is the comment I received:
I suppose I fit the definition of a ‘dad’…..I would buy the all singing thingy knowing most of the ‘professional’ photographers out there give it more than a 7 out of ten and about the same price as other cameras of +7 reputation. The fact that I don’t want to spend time tecnoing up putting in the years to finesse the technical perculiarities of camera a,b or c appears to merit a special if not negative ‘dad’ label.
I suggest the root issue has more to do with that the more technically competent photographers are more aware their market advantage are slowly disapaiting. Companies – like Sony – have reduced the technical mystery of photography and flatten the differentials, which have existed amongst the likes of Canon, Leica and Nikon. I imagine to a ‘professional’ – technical admiration of the new mixed with sadness at technical skill erosion has got to expose mixed emotions.
‘Dads’ can now take photo’s using one of these ‘modern’ cameras which may be indistingusable from any hardened professionals offering. The reason I suppose is that the ‘creative eye’ is not a technical competence it is a human right – an evolution of sensing and seeing.
Sony and their likes are simplifying the technology and making space for the ‘creative eye’ …….. and it may be worth noting – ‘dads’ have eyes too.
I started writing a response, but when it reached the 500 word mark, I decided it was worth just publishing it as a post by itself. It’s not entirely relevant to the rest of the content of this blog, and whislt I am I bit of a ranty in real life, I do try to keep it to a minimum on here… But, since this blog offers me a bit of a self-built soap box, I thought I’d use it to sound off on all of this, especially as it ever so slightly touched a nerve…
Here’s my response:
Ok, firstly, I apologise if you took offence – it wasn’t my intention to offend anyone with my ‘dad’ camera definition. Secondly, I feel I should apologise further and in advance of what I am about to write. As a hardened professional photographer talking to a ‘dad’ camera buyer on this subject there is a good chance of some or all of it coming across as a touch condescending. Primarily, this is because you’ve managed to almost perfectly articulate the ‘dad’ perspective that my comments are based around and as such have perfectly lined yourself up for this sort of response. That being said, hopefully, you can see this as me taking an opportunity to vent in the general direction of an opinion you share with many others, rather than me having a go at you specifically.
So, to start off, yes it’s true that – as I outline in my review – the Sony A7rii does make the job of taking a photo easy for me (perhaps too easy). It’s also true that in your hands, were you to point the camera in the exact same direction as me and the same time you could possibly get the same, or at least a broadly similar result. That is at least assuming we weren’t taking a photo of something that required high levels of technical competence… but I’ll come back to that in a mo.
It’s also true that as you put it ‘dads’ have ‘eyes’ too, which could perhaps increase the chances of one pointing the camera in the same direction as I would, given the same subject. But I feel this is where the truth in what you say ends.
What first separates you as a ‘dad’ and me as a ‘professional’ is not just our shared choice in camera, or indeed creative eye. Primarily it’s the considerable experience I have of using my eye and tools so regularly for the last decade that ensures that my photography both is consistently and repeatedly good enough for my clients, as well as being commercially viable for me to produce (I’m fast at it). The ‘dad’, or even the competent amateur with the same camera as me might take the odd same or similar shot, but it would be highly unlikely that this would be repeated throughout any given shoot to the same standard, especially at the same pace as any competent professional would be capable of.
Which brings me back to the subject of technical competence.
Whilst this camera makes the job easy for me, it is still important as a professional to have the base-level technical competence to get the most out of it. There is no escaping the need to understand the relationship between aperture, shutter and ISO (and that’s before we start talking about the many other variables a camera like this brings.) Understanding the reciprocal relationship between these settings is what allows me to make good creative and technical decisions about how the end result will look.
However filled with tech these cameras are, they can’t make those choices for me, the ‘dad’, or anyone else for that matter, as effectively as I can! Even with the ‘scene’ modes that these sorts of cameras offer – which in truth might help get a ‘dad’ closer – there is still no substitute for a true technical understanding of how a camera works and how to harness that for the best, and most appropriate outcome as repeatedly as is required from the professional photographer.
This is important at any level of photography – amateur to professional, inclusive – but it’s absolutely vital as a professional. The distinction being, that not only does it allow the pro to take the photos they want at any given moment with little or no thought beyond built up muscle memory, it also allows the pro to take the photos the client wants.
But – and this is perhaps even more important still – beyond even the ability to give the client what they want, the level of technical competence I am talking about also allows the pro to know when they can’t give the client what they want. This is often because what the client wants is something that’s physically – or indeed budgetarily – impossible, but either way, knowing where that line lays is a vital part of being a pro!
This might sound nuts, but the amount of times in my career I’ve had to explain what to me seems like the basics laws of physics – and is at very least the very most basic laws of photography – is unbelievable. In reality, it does happen, and quite often, but each time it does it just goes to remind me that actually there is a vast technical basis to my understanding of photography; a technical basis that my career is built upon. It reminds me of this because, almost every time it happens, what to me seems basic, is often not even on the radar of the client… and – with respect – is probably also not on the radar of the ‘dad’ either!
This might seem like I’m bragging about my skills, but in practice, without these high levels of technical knowledge, it would be hard to say “no” to a client. Without that ability to say “no”, I could quite readily end up in quite a pickle by trying to achieve something that takes too long, is not worth the added time for the outcome and therefore isn’t cost effective (even the outcome is better). Believe me, I remember these sorts of pickles well! There was a lot of them in the early days of my career! It’s fair to say I learned a lot from those experiences… in fact, whilst it happens much less often these days, it does still happen, and I’m still learning from them even after ten years as a pro!
However…. they are just a few of the ingredients…. (!!!)
Beyond the technical knowledge of how a camera works, it would also be highly unlikely that the ‘dad’ would also have any or all of the adjacent skills required to be a professional photographer. Believe me, professional photography is probably only 10% (if that) about skills with a camera.
The other skills start with the obvious and closely related skills such understanding light (colour/intensity/direction), understanding lighting (strobes, studio lights, how to work with artificial and natural light effectively, with or without reflectors etc). Then there is understanding the software, understanding how to process files (efficiently and effectively), as well as understanding what sort of deliverables are required by different types of clients – file types, file sizes, “archive ready”, “Amazon ready”, “press ready”, appropriate metadata etc etc. There’s also the required understanding of copyright and image licensing, model release, the laws around where certain types of photography can and can’t be taken, and how those photos can or can’t be used.
All this is before we have even touched on the skills required for running a photography business, both in terms of efficiency as a photographer but also in terms of making sure the right kit is on hand for the job, being able to budget for that kit, knowing when hiring kit is a better option than buying.
And even on top of all of that, there are the adjacent skills one accrues as a professional that sit outside of the raw photographic. Skills in dealing with clients – as mentioned, how and when to say yes and indeed no – but also how to set expectations and deliver within them, repeatedly. Then there is knowing how to maintain and nurture client relationships etc, how to market a business, how to find work/clients in the first place, how to close a deal with a potential client, and even a knowledge of what is an appropriate amount to charge. I could go on…
So whilst yes, the ‘dad’ might – just might – given quite a specific set of circumstances be able to take the same photo as the pro with the same camera, the chances of the ‘dad’ being able to compete with a highly competent professional just based on camera choice – from a standing start – are practically zero.
So do I worry about my market advantage being dissipated?
Do I feel threatened by uncle bob with his new Nikon D5? No, not really… I did, when I first started out, when I just another guy with a DSLR, but now after a decade, now I have a true understanding of my trade, a large client base and an appreciation of what being a professional photographer actually means, I ain’t that worried about what technology brings to the table, thank you very much!
What does bother me, and what has spurned me on in the idea of writing this response is the idea that as a professional photographer, I’m just some bloke with a nice camera, and some vague idea of where to point it, as I hope I have illustrated, there is a shite-side more to it than just that!
That said, it is true that DSLR’s have lowered the entry point, and that many photographers (myself included) were encouraged to dip a toe into the world of professional photography through ownership of such a device.
It’s also true that modern technology allows slightly better photos to be taken by wholly less skilled people. Photography has indeed been democratised, but – and this is a big but – my career choice and all the skills, knowledge and required technical competence that come along with it haven’t be democratised, certainly not by merit of the advancement of the camera alone, and there is no doubt in my mind about that at all!
Which is why your assertion that I would somehow feel threatened by the technology and therefore see any old uncle Bob who chooses to buy the same camera as me is a threat to my career couldn’t be further from the reality of how I actually feel!
So that’s that point… but there’s another point I’d like to make, and that is to touch on a missed irony in what you’ve said.
A professional photographer – at least one who’s worth their salt – should be able to take a highly competent photo with almost any camera. And through what you seem to see as a democratisation of photography, you’re saying you too can take great photos. The thing is, if you (or uncle Bob with his D5) aren’t going to take advantage of the massive amount of subtle options available in a Sony a7rii that arguably make it so good for the pro, you’re just as well off buying a much less expensive camera.
The subtle technical advantages the Sony A7rii brings are very unlikely to help you if you don’t have the massive background of technical know-how that a pro (or serious ameture) does. If you’re only ever going to use it in its ill-placed ‘dad’ modes you’re never likely to see any advantage from its potential either.
In short, buying a professional camera like this as a ‘dad’ photographer is – I’m afraid to say – a waste of your money!
You see, the laws of diminishing returns apply to these things.
For a ‘dad’s’ use, a £500 (or whatever they cost) Nikon d3300 (or whatever the latest entry level is) would likely perfectly suffice for the archetypal ‘dad’ needs. And in fact, in terms of the results most ‘dads’ will get, they’d probably never notice slim visible advantages even if they were apparent in the end results. This is the case because it is actual fact that the sensors in the likes of the entry level cameras are but a nat’s whisker away from those in the top flight cameras these days.
Buying a camera like the Sony A7rii as a ‘dad’ is akin to buying an entire rack of Snap-on tools to change the odd fuse or spark plug in a car. Or kitting out your shed with the most expensive Makita power tools just to once in a while put up a shelf, or build a bird table.
And to top it off, the most frustrating thing of all of this – especially to someone like me who really enjoys sharing his ever growing knowledge and skills with others – is that since these cameras are so heavily automated, and come with so many features controls and options, they are actually fairly prohibitive in the logical learning process of photography! I.e. even if you did want to get to the level of technical know-how needed to be a professional, you’d have to fight the Sony to allow you to learn.
As I say in the review, they’re just not logically laid out in their controls for the likes of most photographers, because – and this is the ironic bit – they are partly designed to appeal to you, the ‘dad’ who has no desire to learn in the first place! Which by this merit, at least in my opinion, almost creates an infinite loop of ridiculous!
In summary, it’s your money, and you have every right to spend it how you wish, but the fact that Sony insist on ladening their top flight cameras with these modes, and the fact that it therefore encourages you to buy them is a shame for both you and me! Me, because they get in my way, and because you simply didn’t need to spend that kind of money to get the results you, the ‘dad’, actually needs or even likely aspired to.
As such, I’m afraid to say, are both being buggered by the camera industry, and in fact, the sociopolitical landscape that supports it!
If you want my advice – which after this rant I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t – now you’ve spent all that money, go and buy a book or two and learn how to get every pennies worth out of your investment!
… and apologies again for taking this rant out on you!
The relevance of the plastic bottle
So that’s my response to the comment on my A7rii review. You might now be wondering what the relevance of the plastic bottle is? Well, I’m including it because it provides a relevant anecdote to back up my above rantings…
A few weeks ago my company was approached to photograph some plastics. This bottle was one of the many items. Quite often these days we invite the client into the studio for an initial test shoot. Knowing there are many ways to skin this particular cat, I decided this was to be one of those times.
The chap came into the studio laden with plastic bits, the first of which I felt like attacking was this clear plastic bottle. Funnily enough, in my ten years as a pro, this was the first time I’d had a requirement to take a photo of an empty plastic bottle. I took some photos, but they weren’t what the client had in mind. Not least because the controlled reflection approach I initially took showed up imperfections in the bottle, which is something I’d simply not thought about. What he had in mind is what he’d seen when he been on YouTube looking to work out how to shoot them himself… …
He’d found a technique whereby the bottles could be back-lit. This removes reflections in the sides of the bottle from direct light and thus doesn’t show, or at very least very much minimises the impact of any imperfections in the plastic. I’d actually not tried this technique before, and in fact was unaware of it. As such, I got the client to show me the video, at which point I had to concede that it looked quite effective. Here is the video in question:
As you can see, it makes use of household bits and bobs and what appears to be a low-rent DSLR. Despite this, my client was unable to emulate the results at home himself. This is why he came to us, the professionals…! Funnily enough, as a pro, after little more than freeze-framing the end part of the video I was able to set up an equivalent in our studio, and as close as dammit, emulate the look to the client’s satisfaction.
Of course, I would have just as easily been able to produce the exact same photo with for e.g. the D3300 I mentioned above. More importantly – and specifically relevant to this now rather excessive rant – my client wouldn’t have been any better off had he had access to my Sony! It wasn’t my camera that enabled me to take the photo to the satisfaction of my client, it was the combination of something I learned through a YouTube video together with a massive background of many other things I have learned previously as a professional photographer. And despite not being aware of the technique in the video – which could have made me look incompetent – thanks to all of my adjacent skills, I managed to conduct myself in a way that didn’t didn’t lose the confidence of the client.
So this beggars the question as to why I need or want a camera like the Sony? Well, because – despite my enormous frustrations with it – it does have a good few features that are very useful to me as a multi-disciplinary photographer… and moreover – as I talk about in the review – it also allows me and my company to offer high standard video production.
Does the ‘dad’ need all those features? Or would a D3300 probably suffice….? I’m pretty certain I know the answer, which is the whole crux of why the ‘dad’ features being included in the Sony is so frustrating from the perspective of a pro!
Contribute to 35mmc for an Ad-free Experience
There are two ways to experience 35mmc without the adverts:
Paid Subscription - £2.99 per month and you'll never see an advert again! (Free 3-day trial).
Content contributor - become a part of the world’s biggest film and alternative photography community blog. All our Contributors have an ad-free experience for life.
Sign up here.