Spray and Pray doesn't light the way for photographers
(Screenshot by CBSi)
Photographers are generally a supportive bunch.
Just look at the thousands of people involved in providing constructive feedback on sites like 500px, or those who organise get-togethers for shooters of all skill levels with events like the Google photo walk.
Sure, I admit there's plenty of healthy competition as you reach the upper echelons of professional shooters, but it generally takes a lot to get a photographer's back up.
So who has caused a mass of internet outrage amongst photographers from all walks of life?
That would be David Jay, who has released his guide to starting a photography business. It's called "The System", obviously positioning itself a bit like The Secret for photographers, except with less romance at the other end.
It's laid out on a big and bold website with lots of pretty typography and graphic design know-how. There are all manner of tips, ranging from making friends in the business to believing in yourself and your skills. All sounds well and good so far.
The point that's incited the ire of plenty of photographers comes a little later on in his manifesto. It's called "Spray and Pray", which, if you're not familiar with it, involves shooting a lot of frames in quick succession (in automatic or Program mode, he says, if you're not sure what to do with your camera) in the hope that one or two will be your winning shot.
Surely, this can't be right? A group of creatives who so wilfully and lovingly work together to enhance their art at each others' throats?
I have to say, I too was one of those photographers who got up in arms about this part of the manifesto. However, it's the context of Jay's recommendation that makes me cringe the most. Spray and Pray is not about shooting a rock concert or snapping away at some school portraits. It's all about photographing a wedding, arguably the most important day of someone's life.
Shooting off hundreds, if not thousands of frames, is a bit like dipping a fishing rod into the sea with no bait and hoping you'll hook an A-grade snapper (pun wholly intended). It takes the most important component of photography out of the equation — the person behind the camera.
If Spray and Pray really worked, then why don't we just set a camera up on a tripod and let it time-lapse the whole day? Surely, there would have to be one OK shot there, given the law of averages and all. Spray and Pray might get you a shot, but it's pretty rare that it would get you the shot.
A photographer (and a wedding photographer at that) has to understand what makes a photograph great. It's about understanding light, judging composition and making sure you capture the moment, particularly when it comes to a wedding. Plus, you would really expect someone who charges thousands of dollars for their services to know the basics of exposure.
Which brings me neatly back to the original reason why Jay wrote this. It's a guide to a business, not for a hobbyist shooter. The primary purpose of a business is to make money.
Despite the creative nature of photography, the economics of the situation are no different. Without clients, there's no cash, and without cash, well, you can't really do much.
Non-photographers often see the life of a working photographer as a brilliant career, involving exotic on-location shoots and endless creative freedom. Like any job, a photographer often struggles with the mundane realities of budgeting and marketing oneself.
This is where something like "The System" comes in, and it has its merits when it comes to the everyday necessities of making your photography business. But with recommendations based on shooting first and asking questions later, it's not going to make very good artistic photographers — just financially-savvy ones.