Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Everyone’s a photographer?

Hiring a professional photographer is one way of ensuring that a special event is recorded for posterity. But what should one look for in finding the right one, asks Omneya Yousry

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Al-Ahram Weekly

People usually consider the value they receive when making a purchase, and it’s no different when hiring a professional photographer. Today, more and more people are setting up as photographers and offering their services on the Internet and elsewhere, creating a movement called “everyone’s a photographer”.
But are they? “When you hire a professional, you’re hiring someone who knows how to make you, or whatever the subject is, look good by using his or her artistic eye, ability to put the subject at ease, and technical skill to give you a remarkable image,” said Ehab Shawki, a professional photographer. A real professional is someone who can take your vision of an event and mould it into something eye-catching and novel that does not contradict your own style, he said.
But Shawki has not always worked as a professional photographer, and he used to be an engineer. In 2007, he started his new career as a photographer after finishing a photography course with professional photographers working for international news agencies. Then he joined a studio lighting course followed by online self-learning training.
Facebook has indisputably helped him to market his business, Shawki says. “In Egypt, we don’t really have a website culture, and people prefer Facebook, facilitating the kind of interaction that is difficult on traditional websites. This has meant a considerable increase in photographers advertising on the Internet, along with reduced rates and often diminishing market share for established photographers,” he says. Success can be measured by client recommendations. “Weddings, for example, are private events where people want to hire the best photographer they can to capture the spirit of the day,” he adds.
One of the successful photographer’s responsibilities is to manage the details of each commission, and the quality of the place and lighting are also important factors in achieving a good end result. Shawki discusses each assignment with the client first, in order to focus on making the most of the day and providing the most poignant memories. In future, he hopes to study further in Italy or the USA, but for the time being he hopes people will become more aware of quality photography in Egypt.
Professional photographer Mohamed Bakier says that a photographer’s quality cannot just be measured by his volume of orders or even by client satisfaction. “A client may try me once but never use my services again if my work doesn’t meet their expectations,” he says, adding that though criticism is important in developing the work, criticism can be the result of a lack of understanding between client and provider. Bakier also relies on Facebook for marketing his work, as well as word of mouth and personal relationships.
“The profession is by nature equipment-intensive. Photographers need to buy cameras, lenses, computers, software, storage devices and more on a regular basis. Things break and need to be repaired,” he explains. But the most important factors in any photographer’s success are the creativity, time and experience invested in becoming proficient at what he does. “As professional photographers, we receive requests for free images on a regular basis. In a perfect world, each of us would love to be able to respond in a positive manner, and sometimes I do work for free in order to promote my work,” Bakier says, though clearly there also have to be paid assignments.
Mekhemar started his photographic journey as a hobby using a regular digital camera. When he was a student, studying management, he discovered that he did not want to spend the rest of his life sitting behind a desk, so he began to study photography in his free time in order to develop an alternative career. He gleaned information from the Internet and was reluctant to attend classes, mistrusting their quality.
When Mekhemar started out as a photographer, he used to offer free extras or complementary photo sessions, and today he still conducts one-day photography workshops for beginners on a regular basis for free, feeling that this is part of his duty towards the profession. However, he also thinks that many people don’t necessarily know a good photograph from a poor one, and so his classes also have an important awareness-raising component, helping people understand the importance of good photography and the work that goes into it.
In his view, the sometimes exaggerated fees charged by some photographers are based more on their skills in marketing their work than the difference between their work and that of others. If they get so many orders that they cannot accommodate all of them, they should raise their fees even further to filter their clients, he says. At this point in the profession, most photographers employ assistants and use high-end post-processing software that allows them to edit images for an even more professional look.
Regarding society’s perceptions of photographers, Shawki, Bakier and Mekhemar all say that all too often photography is still seen as an unrespectable profession, though few people today think of a photographer as simply a means of getting a photograph for a passport. Instead, there is a growing awareness that photography is a form of art practice and that a photographer is a professional who loves his work.  
Nevertheless, some hotels still think that the spread of professional photographers working at weddings is simply a passing fashion. Perihan Essam, a catering and sales manager, says that the arrival of highly paid photographers on the wedding scene is more about fashion than anything else. “People think that if a wedding photographer is part of the package, he’ll provide poor quality, and so they hire expensive photographers from outside. But this is not necessarily true. The photographs are the same quality, though the creativity may differ,” she says.
Hotel photographers can look somewhat traditional or conservative, unlike the newer freelancers, who offer their youth and energy to the client, helping to add to the general atmosphere of the event. “As a result, we offer both options,” she adds.  
“Since the beginning I liked their work on Facebook, so I decided to have professional photographers at my wedding. I also heard bad things about the photographers provided by the hotels,” said Amira Safwat, a recent bride. “I admit it’s a fashion issue, though, and five years ago nobody had heard about the need to have professional photographers at weddings. The quality of the photographs met my expectations, and the fees were reasonable for such a well-known company,” Safwat said. As the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for,” and paying for a professional photographer can make a bride’s dreams come true and produce the images that will be treasured for ever, she concluded.
Most brides prefer to have a professional photographer for the main ceremony, but some of them opt out of anything more. Eman Magdi would hire a professional from outside, but she would also be careful about paying too much. “I may drop some extras in order to hire a good singer, but I wouldn’t worry too much about photography,” she explained. “There is a danger that this phenomenon is just turning our memories into e-memories,” she added.
The advent of digital photography has led to a whole slew of people thinking they’re photographers. It’s true that the delete button on digital cameras can allow you to throw out out-of-focus, badly framed or exposed images, and that messes can be cleaned up on PhotoShop. The newest digital cameras are also really smart. But does a smart digital camera necessarily make an accomplished artist, Magdi asked.

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