The struggles of a modern photographer

Monday November 26 2012

By Craig Hendry

With the heavy onset of consumer based Digital-SLR’s, pocket digital cameras, and cell phones with high mega pixel cameras built-in; the days of real photographers seem to be quickly disappearing. Main stream social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can be very useful to aspiring photographers, but it has also created a world where people have developed a mind-set that there is no need for a real photographer, or photos can be saved from these sites to ones own computer.

Photo by Craig Hendry

“Hi, my name is Craig Hendry, and I’m a social media era photographer”. There should be a support group for those who fall into that category. The struggles that come with being an aspiring photographer these days are immense. It takes a lot of talent and luck to make it in the photography business now, and you need the skills and a natural ability to take great images that are unrivaled. It’s not as simple as pointing, and shooting, there’s a method behind the art of photography.

Anyone can walk into stores such as Future Shop, Best Buy, Sears, even Wal-Mart, and purchase a number of different cameras, from pocket-sized digital cameras, to large Digital-SLR (DSLR) cameras. The price can range anywhere from $100 to over $500 for a pocket digital camera, and $400 to $800 for a decent DSLR. This is great if you have an interest in photography, and intend on learning. It’s not great if you only intend on buying such cameras to capture those special family moments, or have a family member or friend who is willing to take your family portraits for free, and will set the camera on its automatic setting.

There are several problems that arise when people don’t want to pay a photographer for something like family portraits. First, photographers aren’t making any money. Second, you get what you pay for. I’ve been asked by friends who like my photos, to do a photo session with them, and take some amazing photos of them, or their families, and to give them a price quote. I get back to them, quoting $80 for a full 2 hour photo session, which includes  consultation, creation of images, image editing, and so on. If they wish only digital copies of the photos, I charge $0.50 per image, and for printed copies it depends on the size of prints they wish to purchase. I consider this a very reasonable price considering my ability as a photographer, the time put into preparation and editing, and that high-end photographers typically start at around $500 for the same service. More often than not, I never hear back from these friends. Then next thing I know; I see portraits of  them on Facebook taken by another one of their friends who has a DSLR, did the photos for free, or next to nothing. The photos are usually so bad, it’s unbearable for me to look at them. It’s as if think that they are a real photographer solely because they have a big camera that cost them $500.

The product you get from a photographer that knows what they’re doing.
Click to enlarge.
Photo by Craig Hendry

What you get with a person or camera that isn’t up to the task at hand. You can’t tell there’s a lake behind the trees.
Click to enlarge.
Photo by Craig Hendry











Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram don’t help photographers when other people using those sites find an image they like, and save it to their computer, and, or post it directly to their Facebook. This by law is theft, but besides that; it is taking away possible money from the photographer who spent a lot of money and time learning how to take such great photos.  You want that amazing landscape photo you see on Facebook? Contact the person who took it, you may just get it for free, or at low-cost.

When you choose a friend with a big DSLR, make sure they know what they are doing when it comes to photography. There is a lot to photography. It’s not just ‘set your big fancy camera on auto’. It takes practice shooting on manual mode, and manually focusing on your subject. You have to be able to read the lighting conditions, indoors and outdoors, where the light may be changing constantly. Along with lighting, comes shadows and fill light. You don’t want too much dark shadow on one side of a persons face so that you can’t see the detail in their skin. You also don’t want to overexpose the person you’re shooting, and have their face so bright that it washes out the side of their nose.

1- Avoid heavy shadows that hid detail in the skin. 2- Avoid overexposure that wash away details in the skin. 3- Properly expose with even amount of fill light.
Click to Enlarge.
Photo by Craig Hendry.

If you intend to hire a photographer of any sort, take a look at their work first. Look for and avoid photographers who consistently overexpose their subjects, or consistently have heavily cast shadows on their subjects face. While a certain amount of overexposure on a subject’s skin is desirable, which hides some flaws in the skin or give that “glam” look, avoid too much washing out of detail on the skin.

After the photo session comes hours of mass editing; which also takes an insane amount of practice to master the set of skills needed to edit correctly. There is such a thing as over processing, which can depend on the type of photo you are editing, whether it’s a portrait, or a landscape for instance. I’ve spent nearly five years honing my skills and practicing different techniques, a never-ending struggle to get better at what I do. Despite all my practice, skills, and efforts to build a business in photography, I still struggle to bring in clients and make money to continue making great images for people.

In larger city centres, street photographers, architectural photographers, and even portrait photographers are needlessly harassed by police officers. In California; local photographers to tourists are hassled by cops while taking picture of buildings, or even in front of buildings. The reason is due to possible terrorism. The U.S. Homeland Security deems activities such as this to be suspicious, and could be used to gather information on potential terrorist plots. While taking pictures on public property, of buildings within public view, or of historic buildings is legal, authorities have managed to class these activities as a potential threat. Photographers can barely making a living in public, while partaking in an activity that is legal.

Most of my work, and what I’m best known for is my fire photography. Fire photography isn’t taking pictures of camp fires, or even fire trucks. It’s a form of photography just like portraits or landscapes. Fire photography is how I learned to master exposure, lighting, and shadows. Being on a fire scene in the middle of the night, next to no lighting except the small amount given by the fire, and the constant blinking of flashing emergency lights, getting your camera settings right is not easy in the least bit. It requires you to constantly change the settings on your camera, and your position and angle to the subject. You’re dealing with water flying through the air, smoke, and dirt, all landing on your lens. You must ensure that you aren’t in the firefighters way, and keeping yourself safe. You’re freezing in the winter, and sweating in the summer, which is very distracting when you have so much to think about.

Taken at Detroit fire scene. There are no street lights, only light from the fire and flashing lights on the trucks.
Photo by Craig Hendry

Every new or seasoned photographer I come across, I tell them to go to a fire in the middle of the night, and do this for months and months. I tell them that shooting in such conditions will allow them to hone their skills, and give them a better understanding of lighting, exposure, and their cameras capabilities.

Being a photographer isn’t glamorous as many think. It’s hard work. A photographer that knows how to set up their camera can achieve results that you may consider to be impossible. It’s different from shooting with your fancy camera on automatic, or shooting on manual with a bare understanding of lighting and exposure. When shooting on auto, the camera doesn’t actually read the ambient light correctly, and therefore will either overexpose, or underexpose an image, making it too dark, or too bright. This will give you a mediocre photo at best.

There are tons of amateur photographers out there that want to get their foot into the market. Many of these photographers are still learning, but have an understanding of the theories and skills needed to be a successful photographer. They will charge you a lot less than a high-end pro photographer, and my not yet be able to deliver the quality that the pro can. However, the amateur may leave you pleasantly surprised with their work. Give real photographers, and the amateurs who know what their doing a chance. They’re only trying to make a living.

Brent Foster, who owns and operates Brent Foster Photography, is a local photographer out of Wallaceburg who has made a career in the business. Foster is an amazing photographer, and one of my favourites. He has one of the best eyes, and has won multiple awards for his work. The material he produces evokes emotion, and they are all exposed, and composed properly. On his web page under ‘information’ and ‘investment’ you can see he charges $3200 for “storytelling wedding coverage. After you look at his work, you will see and understand that, you get what you pay for.

The challenges face by social media era photographers is overwhelming. Photographers now face more challenges than ever. With everyone and their Mum’s thinking they are a photographer, the number real and successful shutter bugs of today is slowly dwindling. From people stealing images from the internet, people not wanting to pay for quality results, to police injustice, to name a few, modern-day photographers are struggling to make ends meet, and to find jobs. We are a dying breed.


Craig Hendry is southwestern Ontario’s premiere fire photographer. You can view his work on Flickr. Craig also used to work for Fire Photographer Magazine before they closed. Craig’s twitter account is @F_P_Photography.

2 Responses to The struggles of a modern photographer

  1. Ernest D'Andrea

    November 27, 2021 at 11:54 am


  2. Craig Hendry

    November 27, 2021 at 2:20 pm

    Thank you Ernest D’Andrea. It’s pretty much the same, not matter where you go, even across the 3000 mile ocean.