Why Would Anyone Pay A Professional Photographer?

In our digital age, I'm sure that many people (dare I even say, most people) think that professional photographers are a thing of the past. They've gone the way of the dodo bird, dinosaurs, the Model T and are as obsolete as telegraph operators, milk men and newspaper typesetters.

I mean, anyone can capture wonderful images and videos, right in the palm of their hand, then conveniently tuck it away in a pocket. In less than the time it takes to blink, you can have a perfect image of your child, your dog, your car, yourself, and almost as quickly, share it with the world. So, that being the case, why would anyone pay for a "professional photographer" to do anything? More to the point, why would anyone, in this day and age, pay "so much" for a professional photographer, when your daughter's friend Steve can do as good a job with his iPad and your Uncle Bob can do as good a job with his cell phone...and with sooo much faster results? Even if people are willing to concede the point that you can get a better quality picture with a "point-and-shoot" camera than with a cell phone, why would anyone spend more than $300-500 to get one? Everyone knows that there's honestly no real difference between the results, right? So why would you fall into the pit of paying a "professional photographer" $200 for a photo shoot with his $7,000 camera and $3,000 lens when the guy on Craigslist with his $500 camera offering a photoshoot for $50 is just as good? That's just common sense, right? Well, the answer is "yes and no"...but mostly no. Yes, anyone who knows what they are doing, can use a cheap digital camera, an iPad or a cell phone to get a decent image that looks great on Facebook. If you want something bigger than that, not so much.

Someone once said that the great Ansel Adams could take a wonderful photograph using a Polaroid. Why is that? Well, because the man had full grasp of the two most important basic principles of good photography: lighting and composition. Not everyone has that grasp. Ok, let's assume that Craigslist guy does possess the understanding of those two things. Why, then, should or would anyone waste $200 or more for expensive gear guy and not just happily fork over the $50 to Mr. Craigslist? I'll be happy to answer that question.

Above, I mentioned the two most important basic principles of good photography. I didn't say those are the only two principles. Other things include knowing when to take a photo (timing), understanding what sort of settings would work best with what sort of situation, knowing how to work in any lighting and the difference between each. Also, in that same vein, how to modify the existing light to get the desired results. Let's not even get into the time it takes to perfect each image in Photoshop, Lightroom or other editing software, to remove blemishes, put stray hairs back in place, soften skin, eliminate stains and wrinkles, etc (or the high cost of that software). There are just so many things belonging in this list that I could actually write a book on the subject, but I will spare you and keep it as short as possible.

I will be comparing shots taken in the same room, at the same time, under the same lighting conditions, using a Samsung Galaxy Edge, a Canon Rebel Point-and-Shoot camera with the kit lens that comes with it ($500, purchased at Best Buy) and a Canon 1Dx (purchased at B&H Photo for $7,000) using both a 100mm lens (originally purchased for $1800, now available at B&H Photo for $900) and a 50mm lens ($950 from B&H). For the close-up samples, I only used the same, omitting only the 50mm lens.

For the sake of space and the encouragement of commentary for questions and education, I'm not going to offer much in-depth individual explanations. I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves. I will say that I sat in the exact same spot (sometimes moving my arms to get as close to the same composition as possible) for each picture. They were all taken within seconds of each other so the lighting is exactly the same for all. The experiment was done at about 7pm so there was not a lot of light coming from the window but I felt it was enough to emulate the lighting in most wedding receptions. I used no flash or studio lights, no external light modifiers and no tripod. I used only ambient light in the room with both the overhead light on and off (and I also showed photos of me doing this experiment so you could verify that there was no extra lighting). I did no processing of the images, not even sharpening them, other than resizing to fit this format (based on a 4x6 crop guide). The cropped examples, were done at 100% (meaning actual size as captured) and taking a small 1x1" sample to show what the pixels (details) in a small area look like at full size to illustrate what would be printed. That is important. The higher-quality of the image (better details), the larger the print you can get. To put this in perspective, a camera like this 1D x can take an image that is suitable for use on a billboard and still maintain all the details without significant pixelation. Can you do that with a cell phone or a point-and-shoot?

Let's see if there's really a difference.

  Sitting with the window light behind me, at that same exact spot for each shot taken in this comparison experiment. This illustrates my position in the room and to my subject, my lack of external lighting or lighting modifiers and it also shows the ambient lighting at the time. For this specific photo, the overhead light was off.

Sitting with the window light behind me, at that same exact spot for each shot taken in this comparison experiment. This illustrates my position in the room and to my subject, my lack of external lighting or lighting modifiers and it also shows the ambient lighting at the time. For this specific photo, the overhead light was off.

  With a 50mm Lens, the 1x1" crop shows great detail and color without noise. Overhead light (tungsten) was on. The focus is on the subject while the out-of-focus background is muted and irrelevant.

With a 50mm Lens, the 1x1" crop shows great detail and color without noise. Overhead light (tungsten) was on. The focus is on the subject while the out-of-focus background is muted and irrelevant.

  Notice the 1x1" crop still shows great detail and color without noise after the overhead light was turned off.

Notice the 1x1" crop still shows great detail and color without noise after the overhead light was turned off.

  Use of the 100mm prime lens made it impossible to match the exact composition of the 50mm, creating a tight crop that eliminated any background. However, what you can see of the background is muted and insignificant, as it was when using the 50mm lens, providing only a splash of complimentary color and no real detail of the antique couch behind the subject. The 100% crop still shows nice detail.

Use of the 100mm prime lens made it impossible to match the exact composition of the 50mm, creating a tight crop that eliminated any background. However, what you can see of the background is muted and insignificant, as it was when using the 50mm lens, providing only a splash of complimentary color and no real detail of the antique couch behind the subject. The 100% crop still shows nice detail.

  Turning the light off in the room did not make much of a difference. There is still low noise, great detail and a nicely blurred background. Even though this was handheld in a fairly dark room, there is impressively little evidence of camera shake or digital noise.

Turning the light off in the room did not make much of a difference. There is still low noise, great detail and a nicely blurred background. Even though this was handheld in a fairly dark room, there is impressively little evidence of camera shake or digital noise.

  In this image, using the Samsung Galaxy Edge, the overhead light was on. At this full frame, this is an ok picture with good lighting but details are starting to get lost, especially in the darker areas. The entire background has now come into play, showing the couch and even the bookcase behind the couch. With the cell phone, the composition looks "busy" and less attention is being directed to the actual subject. In the 100% crop section, you can see that the detail has mostly been lost, alltogether. It is also very pixelated with a lot of digital noise. 

In this image, using the Samsung Galaxy Edge, the overhead light was on. At this full frame, this is an ok picture with good lighting but details are starting to get lost, especially in the darker areas. The entire background has now come into play, showing the couch and even the bookcase behind the couch. With the cell phone, the composition looks "busy" and less attention is being directed to the actual subject. In the 100% crop section, you can see that the detail has mostly been lost, alltogether. It is also very pixelated with a lot of digital noise. 

  With the light off, using the Samsung Galaxy Edge still looks fairly decent, adapting well to the low light. However, the image did suffer, greatly, with a lot of darkness around the flowers. This is not as pleasant an image as with the light on and nowhere near as good as those taken with the the 1D x using either lens. In the 100% crop, it now looks like one of those cheesy filters has been applied to make it look like an oil painting or textured glass. This is not printable, at all, in my humble opinion.

With the light off, using the Samsung Galaxy Edge still looks fairly decent, adapting well to the low light. However, the image did suffer, greatly, with a lot of darkness around the flowers. This is not as pleasant an image as with the light on and nowhere near as good as those taken with the the 1D x using either lens. In the 100% crop, it now looks like one of those cheesy filters has been applied to make it look like an oil painting or textured glass. This is not printable, at all, in my humble opinion.

  Ok, I'll admit that this was actually surprising to me. I expected the Canon Rebel to out-perform the cell phone and it most certainly did not. The cell phone camera at least produced results that one would not be completely ashamed to post online but the Canon point-and-shoot was just awful. Now, while I kept to the rules of not doing any post-processing, using the Rebel is the only time that I had to take numerous shots. I think this was my 8th photo attempt. Had I used the first images, there would be no way you would believe that I didn't purposely try to ruin this example. This, being the best of all the Rebel shots that I took, still looks absolutely atrocious. With the low light conditions, even though the overhead light was on, the lighting was still low enough that it took a longer than optimal exposure time, thus causing camera shake to come into play and completely ruining the image (and I have an extremely steady hand).

Ok, I'll admit that this was actually surprising to me. I expected the Canon Rebel to out-perform the cell phone and it most certainly did not. The cell phone camera at least produced results that one would not be completely ashamed to post online but the Canon point-and-shoot was just awful. Now, while I kept to the rules of not doing any post-processing, using the Rebel is the only time that I had to take numerous shots. I think this was my 8th photo attempt. Had I used the first images, there would be no way you would believe that I didn't purposely try to ruin this example. This, being the best of all the Rebel shots that I took, still looks absolutely atrocious. With the low light conditions, even though the overhead light was on, the lighting was still low enough that it took a longer than optimal exposure time, thus causing camera shake to come into play and completely ruining the image (and I have an extremely steady hand).

  These are the Canon Rebel images taken with the overhead light off and they are even worse (I took over 20 images that were completely unusable and actually started to get frustrated). Can you imagine the disappointment seen in a bride and groom, had this been used at their wedding reception? Sadly, there are thousands of bargain "wedding photographers" around the country who are using this sort of camera. This is why "Mr Craigslist" only charges $50. Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for.     My final thought is this: When it comes to your desire to take a photo or to have one taken, one in which you hope to capture a special moment such as the first time you hold your newborn, your first kiss as man and wife, your parent's 50th anniversary, an image that you want keep for decades and maybe even pass down through generations, which is more important, getting the cheapest deal or having an image that you'll be proud of passing on? I hope the results help you find your answer. When your daughter is going away to college, you want to look at the photos of your of your baby girl's first steps with pride and emotion, not regret that you didn't have a better picture.

These are the Canon Rebel images taken with the overhead light off and they are even worse (I took over 20 images that were completely unusable and actually started to get frustrated). Can you imagine the disappointment seen in a bride and groom, had this been used at their wedding reception? Sadly, there are thousands of bargain "wedding photographers" around the country who are using this sort of camera. This is why "Mr Craigslist" only charges $50. Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for.

My final thought is this: When it comes to your desire to take a photo or to have one taken, one in which you hope to capture a special moment such as the first time you hold your newborn, your first kiss as man and wife, your parent's 50th anniversary, an image that you want keep for decades and maybe even pass down through generations, which is more important, getting the cheapest deal or having an image that you'll be proud of passing on? I hope the results help you find your answer. When your daughter is going away to college, you want to look at the photos of your of your baby girl's first steps with pride and emotion, not regret that you didn't have a better picture.