Photography and Morality


I was doing some portrait work for some local friends/clients (they’re getting holiday pictures done) and it involved both group and individual shots.  The group was two parents, their dogs, and a couple kids ages ranging from 13-18.  Group shots were done and we segued into the individual shots.  The plan was to have the kids go first in order of youngest to oldest (attention and interest in participating drops exponentially the younger you get…) when a touchy subject centering on photography and morality hit me square in the face.

The Background

So, out comes the 13 year old in her holiday outfit and we start doing a couple different posed sequences.  Then, to keep the mood light and fun, I said “Let’s do a few silly shots…make some goofy faces and just have a little fun”  Next thing I know this 13-year old is trying to strike this seductive-like pose – hand on hip, chest thrust out, head back and her tongue just waggling out of her mouth.  I stopped the shoot and asked the parents to step in.

The Reaction

They were all laughing and I said that this wasn’t really all that funny – we all know what that kinda pose means, right?  Is it funny for a 13y.o. to be suggesting she is into…uh…that?  I think it started with Miley Cyrus when she got all slutty, and it went viral from there…and I didn’t want to produce photos of that nature.  The parents looked at me rather shocked for a second, and said they were done and packed up to leave.  I got paid the sitting fee for the session, but suffice to say, no prints were ordered or were any provided.  They’ve also not been very reachable socially since.  I’ve offended them on some level…by not letting their kids pose like this:


But to me, I would rather not produce photos that depict women – much less young kids! – in such a light (and this is one of the tamest ones she has out there – you’ve probably all seen the more, well, slutty ones…).  I was rather shocked myself that the parents were ok with that…and yet they are upset with me.

The Quandry

Is my morality conflicting with society?  Would you have completed the shoot?  Where does your photography end and your morality begin?  Can the two co-exist?

Service Equals Quality

Remember the axoim that on the web, content is king?  While we all need to be cognizant of this, when your business is based on providing something – whether it be a product or a service, you simply must be pleasing your customers as well.

That axoim has held true here on the blog too.  Time and time again, people have told me not to worry about how often I publish posts, but rather to make sure that when I do post – the article provides good quality.  You don’t want to view lame photos and read articles that don’t have a lot of thought put into them.  So, when I get busy at work, or am otherwise unable to give this site the attention it needs, readership tends to understand that while I may be gone periodically – I always come back, and it’s almost always good content.

Today, I’d like to share two stores:

Story # 1 – Basil’s Italian Restaurant in Corbin, KY


Chef Richard

Our first story is the result of a recent training trip to that neck of the woods.  The clients I was training asked where I’ve been staying and where I’ve been eating.  When I first started this gig, I was hesitant to share that info – until I realized that they were politely suggesting that they had good ideas for where to eat and visit.  I started tuning in and have been getting recommendations across the country. Sometimes, in fact, I’ve attended a restaurant blindly.

This night was no exception.  I arrived at the place at 7:20, palette readily salivating for some good pasta.  I go in and the place, while nice, appears deserted.  I must admit I was disappointed because it came so highly recommended.  The place is a one-man shop, and he prides himself on his food from what they say.  The next thing I know this “one guy” – Chef Richard – comes out and apologizes but says they are closed.

I acknowledge my oversight at not arriving sooner or checking their hours (they close at 7 because it’s in a residential neighborhood).  I start to head out when he rattles off a few items (7 total) that he could whip up quick for me if interested.  I don’t want to be a bother because this guy must be tired after a long day.  We exchange a little dialogue, and the next thing I know, he is pulling me into the restaurant because he WANTS me to try their lasagne.

Only after being repeatedly assured that it’s not a problem, I take a seat in the otherwise almost empty place (there were a few people lingering at the bar).  I order a merlot, and nosh on some garlic bread until the lasagne arrives.  Oh.  My. God.  My mouth had died and gone to heaven!  You know that taste of Italian – when it’s good but almost instantly when the acidic nature of the tomatoes hits your throat?  It burns a little, right?  This had the taste without the acid.  It was amazing!

On top of that, Chef Richard and I ended up hugging briefly as I left 90 minutes later.  I felt like I had made a true new friend.  He genuinely wanted me to experience a wonderful and delicious meal, which I did!

The place was obviously closed, yet they went out of their way to provide both wonderful good food and stupendous service.  And one man basically did it all!


Story #2 – The Pink Slip, hotel restaurant in Nashville, TN


The Pink Slip
The Pink Slip

Our second story was at the Pink Slip in the well-esteemed Hotel Preston in Nashville.  I hear from the shuttle driver that their in house restaurant is available, so I decide to try it.  The velvet walls, female lounge lizard singer and guitarist try to evoke “jazz” but really only brings to mind “porn”.  Yet it’s been mentioned, so I ask for a menu… The bar-maid (ironically, named “Bar”bara), takes a beer or something out to another table, gets another pair of gals a drink and a menu, then finally comes back to me 5 minutes later with a menu.  I hear her rattle off some off-menu items to the gals and make a mental note to ask about the burger.  Another 5 minutes go by and she finally gets back to me.  Yeah, I can get the burger.

Do I want a beer?  Fat Tire draft please – been a long week.  A cursory nod, a beer is drawn and brought over.  She tunes into Modern Family on the TV (a repeat by the way) as it starts up.  Meanwhile the over-amped lounge lizard belts out some 90’s Madonna tunage.  Oddly, (during a commercial) she asks if I am ready – uh, yeah, I ordered the burger?  She nods and goes back to put the order in that I’d requested about ten minutes ago.  I sip the brew, and about half way through, while sipping and reviewing email, ask for a glass of water, figuring the food is just about ready.

The water empties, and the beer disappears.  Finally, the food comes, and while it’s not great, it’s not inedible.  I scarf it down because the atmosphere is starting to give me a headache. Within 10 minutes I am done, and wait to get a check.  Modern Family is almost over though, so I wait some more – I don’t want to interrupt, but will definitely make a note if she looks over.  Finally, she looks over and I quickly ask for the receipt.  She walks over and asks if I want some dessert – no thanks just a check please.

The bar was clearly open for business, had the grill on, yet I never felt less welcome in an establishment.  The burger was on par with McDonalds – you could tell it was pre-made then heated and slapped on a bun before being tossed out to the side of the customer.

This place was almost like they were going out of their way to send the message that they had something more important to attend to than a customer – a repeat TV show.


Which would you rather visit?  Now granted, the food at the latter was not worth writing about, but the service sure was!  Where content is king online, service is king in restaurants!

How does this relate to photography?  Simple.  You are only as good as you make your clients feel.  There is so much competition out there these days – I can get good photographs from anyone.  If you make me feel special though, you will stand out above the crowd.  If you seem genuinely interested in me, it makes me feel special (even though I know I’m just another Joe…), and that can make you stand out.  It takes dedication, passion and a lot of work, but the amount of passion you put into your work is directly proportional to your success.

But when you deliver just average photos, and seem bothered that the person is preventing you from working a larger gig (or table) and otherwise just not interested in even getting to know you, that can be bad for business.  You may get a reputation as an ass.  Which will kill the business first – your average photos or your poor attitude?  While content may be king online, attitude is everything in small business.

Most photo gigs are small business.  Remember the moral of the story here when you get a customer.  Big or small, single or simple order, treat everyone special and you will succeed.  Otherwise, you are doomed to fail.

Shooting for fun or money


For this first of two holiday weeks for the eyar, the blog will be turning to more of an esoteric theme.  Tips, tricks, tutorials, and the like are all fine and dandy, but this week I’d like to pose a question fo whether we are shooting for fun or money!

While clearly we all start in the craft because we love it as a form of expression.  We are captivated by capturing the moment, painting a scene with light and color.  if we learn the craft well enough, and our eye gets discerning enough, others may ask us to take pictures for them!  Or even better, ask if they can have a copy of something we’ve already done.  Praise is a wonderful ego boost and source of flattery, and while we all may mask it with self-deprecating remarks, humor, or coyness – no one likes the compliment better than someone who wants to pay them for their work!

“Getting paid to do something you love” is an oft-quoted sentiment, as is the idea that “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”.  But, truth be told, if you make your living in photography, there is going to be a certain amount of pressure to perform – or produce results.  And the minute to take something you love and try to earn a living at it – the pressures of running the business side will reduce the passion you have for the subject.  It’s the nature of the beast.  You have to eat.  You have to have shelter.  If you can’t afford those two necessities, how much will you really “love” working as a professional photograper?

The shot today is a perfect example…I absolutely love this shot:


From a critique perspective, this is a horrible shot.  The angle is all wonky, the horizon isn’t straight, there is really no subject, and I probably butchered the saturation in post production.  But, for me…when I was canoeing with my family this last summer, we were cooling off in Raquette Lake, and I was sipping a lukewarm beer.  My brother and brother-in-law were to my left and right…the nephews were out galavanting around being pirates or whatever young kids pretend on trips like this.  We were cut off from the world (well, not really, but as close as one can get since there was no cell reception, and only a 9-5 Park Ranger available to sell you firewood at $5 a bundle)., and this shot reminds me of that day.  I loved that day, and for that reason, I love this shot!

This shot will never sell though – for no one else except those on this trip, this shot is meaningless until now.  I cannot make anything off of this picture.  Yet I feature it today on the blog because I took this shot for fun…

The comparison shot I am about to show you actually sold for me on iStock.  Now granted, it’s not like I’ve made a ton of money off of it (it only sold once or twice), but it actually sold!

Brick Worker

I was on a photo walk, scouting out areas for the South Carolina Photography Guild (now defunct),  and the shadow of the guy on the crane, along with the wet bricks from where he was repairing and cleaning the masonry work just stuck out for a reason.  I took it from a few angles and this one was the best of the 3 or 4.  In the end, it was kind of a boring shot, but it was pretty tack sharp, and when I opened my first iStock account ages ago, figured it’d be a good sample to submit to show I had enough of a grip to consider stock work.  The image was approved, along with 4 or 5 others, and my istock account was opened.  Within a few days, there was a sale on this shot.  Do I like it?  Not really.  It’s probably on some construction workers website, or someone wanted it for a church bulletin, or a school project or other long-since completed project.  It doesn’t really inspire me though.

Which image brought me more satisfaction?  Which one brought you more?  Would you pay huge amounts of money for either shot?  Probably not.  I wouldn’t either.  Thus, this is the dilemma we face.

It’s no secret that most photographers don’t make huge amounts of money.  Yet, somehow the ability to say that “I am a professional photographer” is something said often with a sense of pride.  Is it because you know the crap out of pixels, shutters, and apertures?  Or is it because you made 50.1% of your revenue from photography last year?  Or is it because you love to hear the sound of the click?  Last but not least, could it be the excitement at seeing something you made come out beautifully on either a printed tangible piece of paper or in a web page…saying “this is my artistic vision that I want to share with you”.  Why do you take pictures?  What motivates you?