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Underwater photography - The professionals


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#41 Ice bear

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Posted 30 August 2012 - 10:40 AM

The very idea of “Professional Underwater Photographer” has come to the point of being almost entirely fiction. Even the best/largest stock agencies can not deliver a sizeable check for a photographer specializing in only that field like they use to due to the saturation of good imagery that keeps flooding the market. Most magazines are still paying the same rate for image use as they did during the 90’s, with less and less work becoming available due to the crush of the internet on their own bottom line.

When I was able to make a living as an underwater photographer, the circle of those who were able to realistically do it was small enough that we knew each other. But it took more than being good at your craft, often times, it required the ability to write the story to go with it. To use the worn out clique The Time’s are a Changing, technology has changed that. The range of camera systems are for ranging, not mention frighteningly capable at what they can deliver in even less than competent hands. Canon alone recently celebrated their production of 80 million EF model lenses alone. And then there is the internet, which wasn’t around during the height of my game. Now it has advanced to a point where I am seeing images that would have been reserved and deserving for a high-end publication now gracing the pages this forum and facebook on a daily basis.

Today, the label of Underwater Photographer is a small facet of what I do. Take a quite tour of my websites – UnderwaterJournal.com, WaltStearns.com, as well as both my facebook pages (Walt Stearns and Underwater Journal), and my wife’s (karenstearns) not to mention the ones we serve as admins for (Wakatobi Dive Resort and KISS Rebreathers) you will get (excuse the pun) a picture of what I do now.

As piece of advise, look at your investment in your camera equipment and travel as an investment into your passion, not as an investment into a career path, you will be a lot happier that way.

Thank You Walt for this great and wise sentence! I visited you website. It is really impressive! It is really fantastic to see what kind of art can be done under water.. Respect.

#42 cor

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Posted 30 August 2012 - 11:34 AM

So what does it mean to be a professional UW photographer? I havent quite seen that answered except maybe by John. Get paid for assignments that make up most of your income?
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#43 kmo_underwater

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Posted 30 August 2012 - 04:53 PM

The "Professional Underwater Photographer" that Walt refered to as being entirely fiction would be someone who makes their living entirely from getting paid for the photos they have taken underwater.
As it appears, a more realistic job title is "Professional in the Underwater Photographic Industry", where the bulk of an underwater photographer's income is made from underwater photography, the associated equipment, education, magazines, trip organising, competition judging, etc etc .
In my humble opinion anyway, as I don't fit into either of these categories I'm happy to be corrected.

#44 Autopsea

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Posted 30 August 2012 - 09:49 PM

Competitions that have "amateur" and "professional" categories generally describes "professional" as getting more than 50% of their income from photography.
But, no mention of specific "underwater" photos.
and it should be added a "minimum" income.
as a student you could make 0 money from anything else and sell a photo for 100$ once a year. Then you make 100% of your income from photography. Yay !

Edited by Autopsea, 31 August 2012 - 07:09 AM.


#45 gina

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 07:10 AM

So what's the definition of an amateur photographer? Someone who spends all their money on UW photography? Posted Image

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#46 decosnapper

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 09:08 AM

It can be useful to remember the origin of the word amateur..French, meaning 'the love of' (or close - francophiles please correct me).

There is much I could add...but not via an iPhone keyboard...follow-up to follow...


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#47 John Bantin

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 09:24 AM

It's not just the underwater photography business that has changed. When I sued the Daily Telegraph (a British national newspaper) a few years ago, for non-payment of a repro fee, the editor, under oath in the witness box, said that his newspaper did not pay for pictures. They got them for free!

Edited by John Bantin, 31 August 2012 - 09:25 AM.

I buy my own photographic kit. Diving equipment manufacturers and diving services suppliers get even-handed treatment from me whether they choose to advertise in the publications I write for or not. All the equipment I get on loan is returned as soon as it is finished with. Did you know you can now get Diver Mag as an iPad/Android app?

 

#48 manatee19

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 03:25 PM

Simon wrote : "It can be useful to remember the origin of the word amateur..French, meaning 'the love of' (or close - francophiles please correct me."

Amateur means in French: someone who loves/like something. "Un amateur de vin" means "someone who loves wine". Same for photography or football.... This is the first meaning of the word amateur.

"Sport amateur" means non-professional sport... ie. "amateur sport". Same for photography or other human activities where there is a distinction between a professional or a non-professional/hobby-like endeavour.

So, we can infer that in French or English "amateur" describes someone who engages in u/w photography for the love of the disciplin as opposed to someone who does it to make a living.

Having said that, many amateurs take pro-level images, they simply do not earn their living doing so... So we all start as amateurs and some become professionals, just like in golf, sailing, or astronomy...

This topic is interesting and the insight provided by distinguished members of the profession is great food for thought... And so is the quote about the change brought by image-making technology and the internet/telecommunication industry in the field. Internet/IP-based technology have been major disruptive technologies in so many fields... And we are in the infancy stage of that era.

Question: Who wants to go back to 36-exosure rolls... No instant feedback... 100 ISO slide film... Film processing... Snail mail communications and shipment of images..? Or flashbulbs for that matter :-)

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#49 Walt Stearns

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Posted 01 September 2012 - 03:50 AM

Not me! I like the digital form factor and what I can with the camera at the time I am shooting, as well as what I can do with the image afterwards. The thing I don't ever miss was the need to bring 50 to 100 rolls of film on major assignments and trips, and the cost and time to get all processed once I got back home. Today a single Flash card I can carry in my pocket would cover that and more.

#50 ehanauer

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Posted 01 September 2012 - 06:06 AM

Agree, Walt. Except cords and chargers and hard drives now take up more space than film rolls used to.

I don't miss the film cost and processing fees, though.

What I do miss are film canisters. Handy for carrying and storing stuff.
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#51 John Bantin

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Posted 01 September 2012 - 07:01 AM

Simon wrote : "It can be useful to remember the origin of the word amateur..French, meaning 'the love of' (or close - francophiles please correct me."

Amateur means in French: someone who loves/like something. "Un amateur de vin" means "someone who loves wine". Same for photography or football.... This is the first meaning of the word amateur.

"Sport amateur" means non-professional sport... ie. "amateur sport". Same for photography or other human activities where there is a distinction between a professional or a non-professional/hobby-like endeavour.

So, we can infer that in French or English "amateur" describes someone who engages in u/w photography for the love of the disciplin as opposed to someone who does it to make a living.

Having said that, many amateurs take pro-level images, they simply do not earn their living doing so... So we all start as amateurs and some become professionals, just like in golf, sailing, or astronomy...

This topic is interesting and the insight provided by distinguished members of the profession is great food for thought... And so is the quote about the change brought by image-making technology and the internet/telecommunication industry in the field. Internet/IP-based technology have been major disruptive technologies in so many fields... And we are in the infancy stage of that era.

Question: Who wants to go back to 36-exosure rolls... No instant feedback... 100 ISO slide film... Film processing... Snail mail communications and shipment of images..? Or flashbulbs for that matter :-)

Michel Gilbert



Players and gentlemen? (I was never rich enough to be a gentleman)

I buy my own photographic kit. Diving equipment manufacturers and diving services suppliers get even-handed treatment from me whether they choose to advertise in the publications I write for or not. All the equipment I get on loan is returned as soon as it is finished with. Did you know you can now get Diver Mag as an iPad/Android app?

 

#52 pKai

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Posted 04 September 2012 - 02:37 PM

Simon wrote : "It can be useful to remember the origin of the word amateur..French, meaning 'the love of' (or close - francophiles please correct me."

Amateur means in French: someone who loves/like something. "Un amateur de vin" means "someone who loves wine". Same for photography or football.... This is the first meaning of the word amateur.

"Sport amateur" means non-professional sport... ie. "amateur sport". Same for photography or other human activities where there is a distinction between a professional or a non-professional/hobby-like endeavour.

So, we can infer that in French or English "amateur" describes someone who engages in u/w photography for the love of the disciplin as opposed to someone who does it to make a living.

Having said that, many amateurs take pro-level images, they simply do not earn their living doing so... So we all start as amateurs and some become professionals, just like in golf, sailing, or astronomy...

This topic is interesting and the insight provided by distinguished members of the profession is great food for thought... And so is the

Michel Gilbert



A few..... including the well-respected and very successful Stephen Frink, have mentioned in this thread that being an "amateur" underwater (or whatever) photographer does not imply inferiority in one's image-making ability and that, indeed, many images made by amateurs are "pro quality". Of course, I agree with this; I see some amazing photography every time I come here.... just to mention one place.

Outside photography and perhaps a few other art forms, the word "amateur" certainly implies and correctly describes someone who has "less-than-professional-level" abilities. Generally speaking, an amateur boxer will lose to a pro every single time. The best amateur (College) American Football team has not a prayer of besting even the most mediocre NFL tream. "Amateur" actors almost never perform to the level of Hollywood's best.... and so on.

I put forth a theory -- science geeks would correctly call it a hypothesis since I have not conducted one iota of experimentation to support it:

This one important difference between photography and other endeavors is largely responsible for the desire to "go pro" that many talented amateur photographers seem to have....... People that are good at something don't like being called "amateurs" ----- Its an ego thing.... even if subconscious.

Personally, I have been guilty of this at times. Although I've made money from (mostly not underwater) photography on and off for most of my life, its never been my main source of income. I am technically an "amateur" and after countless hours of therapy (not really) have come to grips (really) with this oft-maligned status........... but please don't call me that. Posted Image

Edited by m1mm1m, 04 September 2012 - 06:35 PM.


#53 cor

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Posted 04 September 2012 - 09:49 PM

I dont really agree with you that outside of photography pro is a measurement of quality. In my perception pro means they made it their profession. A pro soccer player (from europe after all) gets paid to play soccer all day. The result of this is that they become better at it than an amateur that plays on sunday afternoon for fun. So the effect is increased quality, but the cause is daily rigorous (paid) training.

Photography, and especially underwater photography, has a huge influx of affluent people that can afford to practice a lot (and thus increase their quality) without making it their profession. (in most cases because being a heart surgeon is already a fulltime profession). Like you say, and has been mentioned in this thread, their output quality can often compete with people who made this their profession. Just look at some of the competitions and you can see this. Any field where the quality difference between paid and non/low-paid performers is small, is bound to have some issues regarding the delimitation and definition between the two.

The two definitions for uw pro photographer that tend to get mixed together to form an unquantifiable mix is "someone that is really good at creating underwater images" and "a (paid) underwater industry professional". Some people lean more to the former, some more to the latter.
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#54 pKai

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 06:11 AM

I dont really agree with you that outside of photography pro is a measurement of quality. In my perception pro means they made it their profession. A pro soccer player (from europe after all) gets paid to play soccer all day. The result of this is that they become better at it than an amateur that plays on sunday afternoon for fun. So the effect is increased quality, but the cause is daily rigorous (paid) training



Maybe this is a chicken-and-egg argument with regard to non-visual arts endeavors.... Perhaps its different in Europe, but here in the US, and in sports particularly, its nearly impossible to "turn pro" without already being among the cream of the crop at whatever you do. Of course, daily practice after the fact will make one better still, but to even have a hope of getting in the door you must already be among the top amateurs.

Going beyond sports and such.... woodworking/carpentry is a poplar hobby and many "amateur" woodworkers produce stunning work. That said, would you trust an amateur carpenter to redesign and build your kitchen? Safety issues aside, would you hire an amateur electrician to rewire your house because he offers his services for almost nothing as long as you give him "credit" for the work -- much the same way amateur photographers offer their images to magazines for free?

Photogrpahy is different in the sense that organizations that used to exclusively consume the work of professionals and pay accordingly now have no qualms whatsoever taking work from amateurs at a fraction of the price or even for free. Sometimes this work is "just as good" -- sometimes not. For example, I see a lot of garbage photogrpahy in news magazines these days. The days of "Life" and their consistently top-notch photography even in mundane stories are gone, I'm afraid.

I do agree with you that in any visual art that is as equipment and travel intensive as underwater photography, wealth does buy access -- to both "stuff" and places -- as well as time to practice one's craft to a level of intensity that rivals someone that gets paid to do it.

Edited by m1mm1m, 05 September 2012 - 06:19 AM.


#55 bvanant

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 05:19 PM

I think for some sports that might be true, particularly the big pro sports, baseball, football, basketball, tennis, but in some sports amateurs (i.e. non-paid) are as good as many of the pros (golf for example). There are a lot of mediocre professional athletes and some quite stellar amateur (OK, college) athletes but for photography I think Cor is right. If you look at the quality of submissions to major international competitions and especially to those that have both amateur and professional categories, as often as not the best amateur pictures are as good as the pros. Of course there is a huge statistical bias here, to win a competition you need one or a few great images; to make your living at it you need to make great images every time you dive and that is a very big difference. It is often your complete body of work that makes the difference.
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#56 Ducha

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Posted 10 September 2012 - 01:26 PM

This is really an interesting discussion topic!
It reminded me of the time when I was researching in the web to decide which camera and gear I would buy before I bought my Nikon D7000.
I saw it being defined as the right camera for the "ambitious amateur" - this was a good combination for my ego Posted Image
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Edited by Ducha, 10 September 2012 - 01:26 PM.

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#57 tdpriest

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 02:51 PM

Perhaps its different in Europe, but here in the US, and in sports particularly, its nearly impossible to "turn pro" without already being among the cream of the crop at whatever you do.


I think it's exactly the same: thank heavens I've got a proper job!

#58 tdpriest

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 02:56 PM

... the word "amateur" certainly implies and correctly describes someone who has "less-than-professional-level" abilities...


Not at all, unless only by being paid can you acquire the skill and experience to reach the top flight.

Despite my profession as an anesthesiologist and my irritation with the foibles of my colleagues, it's true to say that there aren't any amateur surgeons...

... but there are a lot of amateur artists.

An amateur is a lover, not a failure!

#59 tdpriest

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 02:59 PM

It reminded me of the time when I was researching in the web to decide which camera and gear I would buy before I bought my Nikon D7000.
I saw it being defined as the right camera for the "ambitious amateur" - this was a good combination for my ego...


Ego aside, are you saying that I bought the wrong camera??

I felt that the layout of the controls, AF and memory of the D7000 were limiting: some of the technical details were a step back from the D300, and so I chose the D800 and the perils of FX...

#60 Marjo

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 03:18 PM

I think Cor said it very well:

The two definitions for uw pro photographer that tend to get mixed together to form an unquantifiable mix is "someone that is really good at creating underwater images" and "a (paid) underwater industry professional". Some people lean more to the former, some more to the latter.


I thnk sometimes, if you are an enthusiastic hobbyist, people will think a "pro" while you really aren't doing whatever it is that you are enthusiastic about "for living". I had an instance where I was denied participating in a ocal photography competition because the organizer decided that I was a "pro". Somewhat floored I pointed out that they very well know what I do for living all day (not photography), but no - no way no how - their mind was set, no entry for me.