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Why are there so many Bad Photographers?

by Bonnie Sindelar, from Genesis Photography

digital image to printed product

If you've been swinging any cats in the last decade, chances are really good that you've hit dozens of people calling themselves photographers. Whether they do it on the side or as their full-time job, photographers are everywhere.

If you're not great at evaluating the quality of their photography, you may think that they're all equally good. However, if you've got a discerning eye, you've no-doubt noticed that many of them are pretty bad.

Why is that? Why is the proportion of bad photographers so much higher than it used to be? Below, you'll find my Top 4 reasons why there are so many bad photographers today, and then I'll recommend a few solutions.


My #4 Reason: No Barrier to Entry

To call yourself a photographer in today's world, there is exactly one thing that you need: something that takes photos.

Certification? Nope. State license? Nope.

Studio space? Nope.

Website? Nope. Formal or informal education? Nope. Expensive equipment? Nope.

Photography has to be one of the cheapest professions to get into nowadays in both time, knowledge, and money. You can find a great quality used camera on Craigslist for $250. And with digital photos, you don't have the expense of film, development costs, or prints.

With such a low barrier to entry, it's not hard to see why so many unskilled photographers are in the market.


My #3 Reason: Social Media

How many times have you been on social media and seen a comment under a photo (or written one yourself), that goes like this: "Oh my goodness, that photo of your son/cousin/hamster is so amazing! You should be a photographer!"

According to an article by Photutorial, the average American takes 20 photos per day. That's 7,300 photos per year. And where do so many of those photos wind up? Social media. And in response to one cute photo, comments like the one above, (although well-intentioned), convince a lot of people to pursue photography, even though they usually have very little experience or education in the space.


My #2 Reason: Digital Cameras

Before digital photography, a roll of film had around 24 exposures on it. That meant that after 24 photos, you had to take out the roll and insert a new one. Each roll of film cost money to buy, money to develop, and money to print. So, the idea of taking 24 photos of the exact same pose, (hoping for that perfect smile, perfect lighting, and no blinks), was unthinkable.

On top of the money factor, many cameras didn't have an "auto" mode, which means that you actually had to know what you were doing and how to adjust camera settings in order to take ANY usable photo, much less several.

Going even further, there was no LCD screen on the back of your camera, showing you instantaneously how your photo turned out so you could make adjustments and start furiously snapping away again.

In short, if you give someone a digital camera, set it to "auto" mode, and tell them to take 500 photos of their kid, with little to no knowledge of photography, they'll be able to produce at least a handful of good photos. But the rest of the photos? Not good.


My #1 Reason: No Incentives

This is, by far, the biggest (and most problematic) reason I see for why there are so many bad photographers. In short: What incentive do they have to get better?

If they go get that college photography degree, will more clients come flocking?


If they go to that photography conference and learn how to use studio lights, will clients automatically pay them more? No.

If they spend thousands on the newest gear and software, will clients refer all their friends? No.

As many of you know, running a business is not like a career job, where a master's degree often means a raise, or an added certification will get you a promotion. The only way photographers make more money is by raising prices or getting more clients.

And in today's current market, where there's a photographer around every corner charging $50 for a 1-hour session and 100 digitals, raising prices can be a really tough sell. Especially when photographers are rarely chosen by the quality of their work alone.

Picking your photographer is often a combination of who you know and what they charge. So, if a photographer raises their prices because they've learned tons of new skills and their photos have dramatically improved, they'll likely be rewarded by losing the majority of their current clients. And in a world where most lay people can't distinguish between an educated photographer who takes consistently high-quality photos and everyone else, getting new clients to replace the old ones can be really hard.

So, aside from a photographer's own desire to improve, there really is no incentive to be better. And that, my friends, is the biggest problem we face and the biggest reason why there are so many bad photographers.



This would be a pretty bleak article if I didn't offer some solutions, huh? :) Here are my ideas: Solution for Photographers:

Foster and promote a culture of "Apprenticeship" in the Photographer community

In my opinion, apprenticeships would make the biggest impact and solve most of the issues listed above. By shadowing a professional photographer for at least 6 months, new photographers would get education in photography, running a business, taxes, marketing, pricing, editing, workflows, and so much more.

Afterwards, they could hit the ground running with their own business, armed with this invaluable knowledge and experience.

Here's the tough part: To create this community, we photographers have to stop seeing each other as mortal enemies and start seeing each other as a group of like-minded people where collaboration and education will only improve our profession. In contrast, continuing to view each other as enemies will only lead to ruin.

Solution for the General Public:

Develop a discerning eye and reward Quality over price

I'm not saying that everyone has to be an expert in evaluating photographs. But here's a quick way to tell if a photographer truly knows what they're doing: Ask them to show you a complete gallery from at least 2 recent sessions that didn't contain their own children/relatives. If they hesitate to share those galleries, RUN. You already have your answer.

But if they do share a few galleries, evaluate them and decide whether the quality of the photos that they post on social media is a true representation of their overall body of work. Are all the photos sharp? Is the lighting and color of skin consistent from one photo to the next? Would you be pleased with a gallery like the ones shown? If the answer to any of those questions is "no", then move on until you find a photographer who checks all those boxes.

And when you do find that photographer, prepare to pay for that quality. You should be paying an absolute minimum of $350 for a 1-hr session and $2,500 for an 8-hr wedding. (And that's if you live in a place with a very low cost-of-living.) Anything less than that is honestly an insult to the work required and has zero chance of supporting that photographer with a living wage. (You can read all about that topic in this article, if you'd like.)


So, there ya go. That's my take on the epidemic of "bad photographers" and a couple solutions to address it. If you think there were some good points or ideas in here, please feel free to share this article.

Thanks so much for your time and attention. I know both are very hard to come by nowadays.

-Bonnie Genesis Photography (Lincoln, NE)


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