Ash wants to take up photography. Never having owned a camera, besides the one on their phone, it’s something they have always had a hankering to do, especially after seeing all those great photos on Instagram. This is a cautionary tale, telling what can go horribly wrong for photographers.
Their life circumstances having changed, Ash decides now will be a good opportunity to buy a camera, and then maybe, in time, earn money from taking photographs. Living by the ocean, Ash really wants to take images of the giant waves that crash onto the shore, and especially of the fishing boats that make their way out of the harbor. There's also the lifeboat that heads out to rescue them when they are in trouble.
The first thing Ash does is dive for their phone and open the app of their favorite retail giants, weevadetax.com, and types “Camera” in the search box. That spews out over 70,000 results, but they scroll down anyway. There, at the top of the search results, they see a Digital SLR Camera.
Okay. That’s the kind of camera I want, and I’ve heard of that brand.
Ash scrolls a little farther down the page and sees that the same camera is offered with a bundle of accessories. There’s a tripod, filters, two extra batteries, a lens cleaning kit, plus wide-angle and telephoto adaptors, as well as a memory card. It doesn’t cost much more, and the five-star reviews say what a wonderful camera this is, and how great the accessories are. Furthermore, the camera is on special offer and that offer ends tomorrow.
Without further ado, Ash presses the big, red Buy This Now button. Now the proud owner of a camera, they've taken their first big step to become a professional photographer.
Where's My Camera?
Ash waits for delivery. A subscriber to the premium service of the website, the expectation is that it will arrive the following day. But Ash didn’t notice that the item was actually sold by a third party, and it was being dispatched from... How do you even pronounce that?
Three and a half weeks later the camera arrives. The delivery driver tells Ash that the delay was probably due to the global shipping crisis that was exacerbated by Covid 19, the ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal, lots of vessels trapped in Europe because of the backlog resulting from the UK leaving the EU, plus the worldwide shortage of truck drivers. But Ash is in for another shock. There is import tax to pay. “Sorry.” The driver tells Ash, “I don’t make the rules.”
“But I bought it through weevadetax .com,” Ash complains.
“You’ll need to take it up with them, or the Government. If it is any consolation, you are not the first to be caught out.”
Learning About Photography
The instructions in the book are gobbledegook and make no sense. So, Ash gives up trying to read the manual and resorts to Google to find out how to use the camera. There are lots of YouTube training videos. However, an online photography course with photographyqualifications.com offers a Level 3 Diploma. Like the camera, it has lots of 5-star online reviews. They sign up and, a couple of weeks later, walks away with a distinction.
Ash is chuffed with the diploma. Now they have that, they are up there with the best of the professionals, aren’t they?
Learning About the Camera
The camera is very lightweight, which is a good thing, Ash thinks, but the plastic body doesn’t feel that strong. The buttons are confusing, and the menus more so. But, bit by bit, and many YouTube videos later – the course didn't cover the settings of that camera (how could it? There are so many brands and models,) – they learn what the different buttons do.
Although their images are sharp, looking through the eyepiece, the viewfinder doesn’t look very clear. According to YouTube, all cameras come with a diopter adjustment. The small wheel is at the side of the eyepiece and it adjusts the clarity through the viewfinder. However, examining their camera, Ash discovers that it isn’t a feature theirs has. Besides that blurriness, the viewfinder is small, which makes it difficult to frame the shot. Furthermore, when the images are transferred onto the computer, the edges of the frame show things that Ash was sure were not in shot.
The Battery Catches Fire
The spare batteries are a problem too. They are not made by the camera manufacturer, but by another company Ash has not heard of. The first charges up but is flat again after just a few shots. The second one nearly leads to disaster. It crackles and starts to smoke when put on charge. Quickly unplugging it and smothering the flames, a house fire is narrowly avoided. Unfortunately, the battery charger is damaged and so a new one is ordered after Ash writes an angry message to the retailer and gets no reply.
On the Beach
It's early one blustery morning, an hour-and-a-half before dawn, and Ash heads to the beach by the harbor.
As it's dark, and it’s a good time to experiment with taking long exposures. But the maximum shutter value of the camera is 30 seconds, and at ISO 100, that isn’t a long enough exposure, even with the kit lens at its widest aperture. So, Ash increases the ISO to its maximum. The shutter value stops flashing, so it’s okay to press the shutter.
As dawn arrives, the fishing boats head out to sea. They are too far away, so Ash screws the telephoto adaptor onto the front of the lens to capture the boats leaving, and switching the camera to the focus mode that is supposed to work for both still and moving subjects. Trying burst mode so as not to miss the perfect composition leads to the discovery that the memory card is too slow to cope with multiple images shot at once, and so there is a wait until the buffer clears.
The golden hour progresses, and Ash tries some of the filters that came with the kit, and then, cold and wet from the sea spray, wanders home.
Uploading the Photos Leads to Disappointment
After plugging the memory card into the computer, Ash discovers that the images are a letdown. The long exposures are covered in ugly colored speckles. Then the ones taken with the telephoto adaptor are not sharp. Furthermore, the ND filters made all the pictures look an odd color. Added to that, the lens zoom feels gritty; sand has gotten into it.
Winning a Competition
A multi-million dollar development corporation is building a business complex. They run a photography competition and the prize is them using the winner's photographs on the hoardings around the building site. Ash thinks that they stand no chance of winning because there are excellent local professional photographers who are bound to win. Five weeks later, the hoardings go up and there are Ash's images on display. People wander past the boards without giving them a second look, and nowhere does it say who took the photos.
Heading home Ash posts the images on Instagram. Shortly afterward, they receive a takedown notice because the builders now own the rights to the photographs.
A friend who is a professional photographer calls with congratulations for having the images used.
I hope they paid you well.
The Camera Didn't Like Sea Spray
Six weeks later, the camera dies. Attempting to contact the retailer that sold it on weevadetax.com, Ash discovers they have disappeared. The website itself doesn’t want to know. So, Ash contacts the manufacturer via their website; the camera must be under guarantee. After entering the serial number and sending a copy of the receipt, a message arrives saying the camera is not covered because it was bought on the gray market. Nevertheless, if the camera had failed because of a manufacturing fault, the manufacturer would repair it for their standard repair fee. That was about a third of the cost of the camera.
So, Ash sends the camera off and waited for a call back from them. Three weeks later, an email arrives.
Thank you sending your camera to us for repair. We have assessed it and the camera has failed not because of a manufacturing fault but because the motherboard and electronic contacts have corroded. This is probably due to it being used in a humid or wet environment.
The message goes on to say that the repair cost would be almost as much as the camera.
Ash feels let down by the manufacturer and buys a different brand. This time they choose a mirrorless camera that is weather-sealed and has 100% coverage through the viewfinder. The purchase is with a local camera shop, where it’s possible to try the camera and get advice before buying. The new camera cost a little more, but feels better made and is more comfortable to hold.
The Job Interview
The other good news is that a job interview invitation at a photographic studio has arrived. Ash is confident and goes along with the diploma certificate that proves they are a photographer.
At the interview, the panel asks for a demonstration of Ali’s photographic skills and, afterwards, one of them asks to see the certificate. They sadly tell Ash that the diploma is not accredited, not a recognized qualification. They tell them that there is no regulation so anyone can sell their training and call it a certificate, diploma, qualification, or award, and those that do are usually unscrupulous, offering substandard training.
Learn from Our Mistakes
Ash, of course, is a fictitious character. Surely, nobody can be that unlucky. However, the events described above, individually, have happened to photographers I have met.
One of the big mistakes that many schools make when teaching children art is to supply very poor-quality pencils and paints that would make it impossible for even accomplished artists to achieve good results. So how are they expected to succeed? The same applies to cameras. Many cheap, beginners’ cameras are poorly made and are designed to fail in a short time. They lack basic creative features and are incapable of shooting images outside their restricted parameters. They are just sold to hook people into investing in the brand. Spending a bit more on more versatile and reliable cameras is a good investment.
Similarly, bundled kits usually contain cheap accessories that do nothing to help the beginner take good shots. At worst, they contain non-branded batteries that are a fire risk. Moreover, fake customer reviews trick people into buying this rubbish.
Those that advertise diplomas and certificates that are not accredited qualifications should be approached with caution. That poor-quality online training hooks people by offering worthless diplomas and certificates, and they ruin an otherwise good industry. Nonetheless, there is excellent training to be found online and in-person that doesn’t pretend to result in a qualification. There are also genuine qualifications for those wanting to start their journey into the photographic industry, and progress onto higher education.
Finally, never give your photos away to businesses. Them using your photos to promote their company is not a prize. In doing so they are saying your photos are worthless and undermining the photographic industry. They are in business to make money. They use any possible means of making more profit for their shareholders, and that includes not paying you for your time, investment in equipment, and your creative talents.
Were you caught out early on in your photographic journey by inadequate equipment or services? Please share what happened to you, so others don’t get caught in the same traps.