Commentary

Photography is hard - if you value quality

"Photojournalist? Got such a thing, huh?" asked the condominium manager when he looked at my name card.

This was in 2006 when I was on assignment for another local newspaper.

"These days, everyone is a photographer, what. Just take a camera and shoot. What's so difficult?" he continued with the insults.

I remember having the urge to whack him on his head with my DSLR camera.

It was not the first time I had heard such slights, but that incident somehow stayed with me.

As I read the news reports and social media chatter about the incident (the 'hilariously bad' wedding photos), I can't help but lament how professional photography is still viewed by many as an 'easy' profession.

A friend once asked me in all earnestness: "You have a degree and you became a photographer?"

Why am I bringing all these up? It is because of the recent case of the "hilariously bad" wedding photos put up on Facebook by Ms Jaclyn Ying, which brought back those memories.

Her post, which went viral, included a set of 21 photos taken at various unflattering angles and processed with odd colour filters.

The incident was reported by the media, too.

Ms Ying, 25, told The Straits Times last week: "I was in disbelief. I cried too. A lot."

As I read the news reports and social media chatter about the incident, I couldn't help but lament how professional photography is still viewed by many as an "easy" profession.

In the case of Ms Ying's unhappy experience, I think it is a case of you get what you pay for.

Top-tier wedding photographers charge between $4,000 and $6,000 for a day's shoot. For the reported $350 that Ms Ying's photographer had charged her, I think it is unrealistic to expect the kind of photos that one might find in glossy brochures.

But generally speaking, a lot of people do not want to pay much for photography - as if it is a lesser craft.

At least, that's how I felt when I worked as a freelance photographer years ago. Some of my friends and acquaintances would run for cover when I told them my rates, which I thought were fair. But undercutting my peers would only destroy the very business I wanted to thrive in.

Maybe I was too naive, thinking the regional photojournalism awards that I had won would mean something.

Obviously, they didn't. At the end of the day, it is dollars and cents that matter.

A photographer friend told me I should be prepared to "suffer" financially in order to make it.

I don't agree, but I would concede that my lack of networking probably led to the stalling of my photography business.

Still, many of my peers are earning a good living practising the craft we are so passionate about.

It is not the easy profession that many think it is, just because we are used to snapping away with our phones and getting the occasional money shot. It is a craft that requires dedication and years of honing.

A little more recognition would be nice.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2016, with the headline 'Photography is hard - if you value quality'. Print Edition | Subscribe