Do I Really Need Professional Photography, Part 3
(or, more importantly, when do I NOT need it?)
But to get back to the original question, “Can I take my own photos of my work?” The short answer is “Yes, you can.” You simply have to be honest with yourself about your own skills and abilities as a photographer, and also ask yourself what you want out of the photography
The fact is, every picture of your art does not have to be a masterpiece. There are very real times and places for less than the very best photography. Because, let’s face it, I’m expensive. I charge a lot of money for what I do because I’m really good at it, and there are folks who see the value in it and are willing to pay for my services.
But even they don’t come to me for every photo they need of their work. Take a top-tier potter, for example. I have potters who come to me when they need truly excellent photos of their work, and then they also take their own photos of their work. When they have kiln openings and need to put a lot of shots of new work up on their website, work which they hope and expect will be soon sold, there is no reason to come to me for that. They are well served by making the effort to take their own good-quality photos and using them.
And there is the question of archiving one’s work. A lot of artists take photos of their work throughout their careers in order to maintain a record of what they have done and to help themselves improve over time. Again, for this use it is not necessary to have the highest-end photography (although I do work with some artists who use me to archive their work with very high-quality images, because that’s how they see their work.)
And there are those artists who produce a high volume of work. Often their work turns over fairly quickly and there is little need to create great photography of it along the way because it will soon be sold and there is always more coming. However, in this case, I often will work with the artist to pick out some of the best pieces, or most representative pieces from their portfolio and create great photos of them, so they have great photography to represent their work when needed.
It all depends on what you want out of the pictures. If what you need is a record of your work, or you are quite sure a good (but not great) image of your work will suffice for the purpose you intend, then by all means, take a bit of time to learn to take good-quality photos of your work. You can use them for archiving, for some web uses, and for some sales uses.
But don’t fool yourself. There is still no substitute for having great photography for some uses. As I said in an earlier post, no matter how nice your work is, you will never get a photo of a piece of your work published in a high-end magazine unless it is a truly excellent photograph. Likewise, there are web venues which set a high bar for photography of work to be displayed on their site, such as Artful Home.
And there is one area where it is absolutely essential to have the very best possible photography, and nothing less will do. That is the area of juried submissions to high-end craft shows, exhibitions and galleries. For these uses the photographic bar is set extremely high. Anything less than absolutely top-notch photography can be the quickest route to rejection, no matter how stylish or beautiful or innovative one’s art is.
So why is this? Why is excellent photography so important for juried competitions? Well, there are several reasons. One is simply that the other guy is probably doing it. Your work is being judged against the work of others. If the other guy whose work is similar to yours is presenting his work with clean, consistent, beautifully-lit professional photography, and you are presenting yours with pictures you took yourself with your iPhone, I think I can guess who will be picked, and who will be rejected.
It is unfortunate for the artist. I get that. In the best of all worlds it would come down to the quality of the art, exclusively. And if the jurors had access to the actual art objects, that’s how it would be. But that is not how it is. Jurors judge the art by a photograph of it. Let me say that again. JURORS JUDGE THE ART BY A PHOTOGRAPH OF IT, NOT BY THE PIECE OF ART ITSELF. You owe it to yourself to give yourself the best chance possible, by having the best photograph possible of your work.
And there is a more subtle aspect to it. It comes down to perception. When a juror views a series of images by an artist, they are forming an opinion, not just of the work, but of the artist as well. There are subtle questions they ask themselves, often subconsciously, but which inform their judgement of the art itself. “At what point in her career is this artist? How does she see herself as an artist? Is she a player on the level of professionalism at which we want to see our artists for this show?”
How your images present themselves goes directly to these sorts of questions. Because, as I said earlier, the really high-end artists with whom I work never even question the value of professional photography. They wouldn’t even consider applying for anything without it, because they think that highly of themselves and their work.
High-end artists present themselves with high-end images of their work. That’s the long and the short of it. If you present your work with anything less, you immediately place yourself one level at least below those at the highest level. Anything less than great pictures isn’t just neutral, in this case. It is actually a negative. It actually reflects poorly on your work, and on you as an artist. In a competition where so much is at stake, and in which so many of your competitors already know this, can you afford to start out one step behind?
Finally, I would like to make a general point. The job of a photograph is to represent your work, no matter where it is seen, no matter on what level. It is a stand-in for your work. In a very real sense, it is your work. Quite often it is all anyone will see of your work, or of a particular piece of your work. Or it is what they see which will convince (or not convince) them to want to see, and maybe buy, the real thing.
If you think of it this way, if you think of your pictures as a representative of your work, showing your work to the world at large, you will come to understand that at every step along that way, your pictures need to be good enough, first, to do no harm, but ideally, to enhance the beauty, the appeal, and the artistry of your work.