7 Things That the Photography World Needs Transparency On

I have so many feelings about transparency in the photography world that have built up, and I need to get it out.

If you’re not one yourself, there are tons of photographers who aren’t transparent with the people they work with. It’s a wound that runs deep, turns into a scar, and affects you for the rest of your life in some way. And I think that honesty is the best policy. In a world of influencers, shady models/agents, and Instagram algorithms, we need to be upfront with one another. Once you’re found out to be a sham, it won’t look good for you. And it’s rampant in every part of the industry. This blog post is one that’s going to address it in a few areas of the photography world. But there’s a lot to talk about.

Photography Rates and Gigs

Some of this goes both ways. Photographers should be upfront and honest with what a client is getting. This should be spelled out in a contract or in one single record. To cover your own livelihood, you should do this via email. At the Phoblographer, we typically don’t answer Facebook or Instagram messages when we start to talk business. We direct people to email us. Why? We want the records on our own servers. If Facebook goes down, or Instagram goes down, or our accounts get banned or deleted for some odd reason, we need records of everything. It can prevent possible lawsuits. But we also combine this with transparent and honest communication.

In gigs that I’ve done, I’ve spelled these things out in contracts. I even do so with my contributors and staff. Things change and evolve, but both of us have records of it all. I prefer to not do something over the phone or on Zoom, either. If you have it in email, you can quite literally keyword the messages and quickly find them. The hassle is so much less.

Conversely, it also means that you should sometimes explain your Photography rates. We, as photographers, need to do a lot of educating around this because it’s a service that people don’t understand. Clients think that you’re just pressing a button. But you have to spell it out so that they know. And this goes into so many complicated territories. For example, would you rather have $2,000 for three hours of work paid to you in one gig or $2,000 for 18 hours of work paid to you in one gig? I’m sure most folks would go for the former. If you went with the former, you’re probably doing less post-production work and more work in-camera to get the shot. So overall, it means that you benefit more and you can spend more time doing other things–like getting other gigs. When people realize that they’re paying for that level of skill from a photographer that couldn’t be done otherwise, they change their tune.

Working With Models

This is a two-fold problem. Some models do the equivalent of cat-fishing. They show off what they used to look like. But when you get to actually shoot with them in person, they’re nothing like what they’ve posted on their accounts. There’s a whole subreddit for this. It gives the photographer so many extra problems with photoshopping. Otherwise, the model photoshops the images themselves. Quite honestly, very few things annoy me more.

With photographers, I’m going to argue that it’s much more sinister at times. I used to know a guy who had a lot of money, lived in a massive Brooklyn loft, owned property, and had a good finance job. He’d call models over, shoot with them, and then end up sleeping with them. That’s sleazy. It’s also a mark against the rest of us who actually do this for a living. I’m not saying that genuine chemistry can’t happen. But doing it under the guise of photography is predatory. There have been photographers that we’ve reported on that do this. But other sites don’t because they don’t want to stir the pot. And that brings us to our next subject.

We Have Problems with Whistle Blowing

We, as a photography community, need to be more responsible for cleaning up our own industry. There are lots of things that happen that we know are wrong. But we don’t talk about them. Why? For a few examples, I’ll call out our reporting on Jason Lanier, Jeff Rojas, and Joe Aquirre recently. It took a long time for people to blow the whistle on Terry Richardson. We need to be more upfront and honest about it. We also need to present the facts in an organized way. Unfortunately, that sometimes means that people will get hurt until enough evidence can be brought against these folks. But the bigger problem is that we don’t hold people accountable and responsible.

Let me divert this issue to one of the copyright issues. Do you remember Jasmine Star? You know she was a hot photographer back in the day who got caught with copyright issues. And the worst thing is that it happened again and again. But she continues to be a social media consultant. Why? Why don’t we continue to hold repeat offenders responsible? If a problem happens once, then I understand that honest mistakes occur. But over and over again?

I’d say the same for B&H Photo Video Pro Audio. We tend to just let it slide that B&H has been sued many times for discrimination, has done many settlements, and has also been found guilty of tax evasion. But folks still patron them. In my eyes, you can’t holistically be about equality and do that. For those who say that the Phoblographer pushes out Amazon links on our site, I’ll say that we often link to smaller mom and pop shops who sell things that way. And without them, we wouldn’t be able to do the amount of good that we do in the photo industry.

Sponsorships and Photography

When a company is paying you for a post or something like that, be upfront. We have an entire section of our website that’s clearly labeled as sponsored. We’re also upfront with our audience about trips, about our testing. If a company gives you something for free and in exchange for a review, tell the people this. There are way too many Chinese companies that reach out to us on Facebook and Instagram and who don’t want to do things properly through email. They always want us to do a good review, and we tell everyone that we’ll do an honest one.

A Photograph and a Composite Aren’t the Same Things.

Does this sound random to you? It shouldn’t. You’re probably wondering why it matters too. To start, way too many people post composites and photoshopped images onto Facebook groups, Reddit, Instagram, etc. It’s the worst on Instagram. But a composite and a photo aren’t the same things. It’s affected marketing, the tools created, etc. You probably see tons of photo composites on the web and don’t even realize it. But Photoshop artists and photographers are having the lines blurred unnecessarily. You wouldn’t go to an Orthodontist when you need a Dentist. There’s a huge difference between Photography and photo compositing.

Similarly, you wouldn’t go to a photographer when what you really need is a photoshop artist. The label really matters, especially with travel. People go to certain places, thinking that they can get the same shot that they saw on Instagram, and then realize how much Photoshopping and compositing was done. That’s not totally understood. So let me put it into more of a concept.

  • Trey Ratcliff didn’t get famous by being a photographer. We just thought he’s a photographer. His processes involving HDR involved many hours of shooting and then even more hours of layering, editing, etc. It pushed companies to deliver more dynamic range from their cameras. These days, it seems he does less editing.
  • Brooke Shaden is one of the greatest Photoshop artists of our time, able to create images that inspire and make the jaw drop. But she’s not a photographer. She uses photos and puts herself in the scenes, but she admits that most of the magic happens in Photoshop. And it’s the process of how the final product is delivered that matters.
  • Bill Cunningham was a photographer who shot and didn’t do very much, if any, Photoshopping. He spent most of his time shooting and doing Photography.
  • Ami Vitale is a photographer who doesn’t photoshop. Her work is mostly done in the camera. So she delivers photos.

And here is where I explain this a lot more.

A Photographer and a Photo Editor Aren’t the Same Things.

This is a mantra I’ve preached since the beginning. I do not hate photo editing. I think that it’s a vast and often essential part of the puzzle. But I also go as far as to say that Ansel Adams isn’t a photographer, and he was instead made most famous for his post-production work. If anything, Trey Ratcliff is the modern version of Ansel Adams. Most of the magic for him happened in the darkroom. And that again is a different process. Ansel did Photography for sure, but without the processes he created, he probably wouldn’t be as acclaimed.

In contrast, Robert Capa seldom saw his photos but was often out shooting. So he’d send them off for editing and developing. He is a photographer that did Photography. But I’m talking about some ancient history there. And I understand that today is different. So the idea of a photographer should be one where at least 80% of the final exported image is done in-camera. Basic adjustments are often acceptable. A bit of ethical retouching is okay too. You’re still making a photograph. But much of what you see in magazines aren’t photographs.

The Mistreatment of Women and Minorities in the Photography Industry

The last one I want to address may be the hardest to hear. But there is a lot of mistreatment of women and minorities in the Photography industry. It starts with hiring at times. I’m always one to say that you should pick the absolute best person for the job, and that can actually accomplish it. However, the photo industry has a lot of unnecessary racism and sexism. It’s become apparent in the past few years because folks are starting to wake up. And honestly, it should stop. We need to be more transparent about it all and fix the problems.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.