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  • Writer's pictureJohn Ellert


Welcome to the conclusion of our 3-part series on myths and misconceptions in the visual arts, and most specifically, photography. Today we’ll plunge into some of the misperceptions regarding the physical tools we use and wrap up with some thoughts about career-related matters.


Oh boy, here are some of my favorites! “All you need is a good camera”, “What a big camera, you must work for National Geographic”, “A good photo requires an expensive camera and fancy lenses”. Substitute “pen” or “brush” for “camera: would the same inane statements apply to writers and painters? It is the photographer who creates the image, not the camera. Someone who merely jumps out of the car to make a snapshot of a sunset before moving on has produced only a snapshot, no matter how good the resulting image. Almost any camera will do just fine at capturing 70% of what we see and find visually exciting. Expensive cameras and expansive lens sets allow the photographer to delve deeply into that remaining 30%. They also provide high degree of reliability and endurance in trying conditions and allow for repeatability. They also indicate a photographer’s willingness to invest in the proper tools for the particular kind of work they do. To take another example, my home maintenance tool kit has several different kinds of hammers best suited for the various kinds of projects that I as a homeowner undertake: I don’t use a framing hammer to pound in picture hangers, nor do I use a tack hammer to repair loose nails in my fence. As a photographer I rarely use a wide angle lens to photograph wildlife; nor do I use a super-telephoto to photograph flowers.


To some, being a photographer is seen as glamorous and fun. I fear they’ve been watching too many fictional portrayals or follow the paparazzi in tabloid media. Photography is hard work. Yes, in the field I am often intensely enjoying the experience of creating new work, but that is the tip of the iceberg. The underwater pat of the iceberg is the time spent in preparing for a shoot, often months of reading and research, and afterwards, the many hours in front of a computer screen editing and optimizing images. Add in the time spent promoting one’s work in one way or another, time spent in continuing education, and just the “housekeeping” aspects of an arts career. To bounce off Pam’s portion at the beginning of this piece. Those of us who do teach (or have taught) also have an immense amount of nitty-gritty work to get through in preparing to teach, evaluating student images, and helping neophyte photographers and artists find their way along the jungle paths. It is in the end immensely rewarding, but it is hardly ever glamorous and certainly not easy.


Here let me introduce Melinda Weis, a highly accomplished oil painter and fellow colleague in Gallery 12.

She introduces her pet peeve enumerating some of the costs studio artists bear:

Canvas $50 Price for 16 x 20

Solvent $20

Paint small tube $50

Paint small tube $40

Brush med size $25

Frame moderate $100

She goes on to note that “[a] limited palette CAN be achieved with 4-5 tubes of paint. These are the moderately priced brands for a pigment most artists carry in their arsenal, not the most expensive by any means. Nor, in all fairness, the cheapest either. And most artists don't limit themselves to only 4-5 tubes. And all artists have more than one brush.

“Then the going percentage for gallery representation is 50% of the sales price. Not to mention the price of studio equipment such as an easel. And the price of any schooling or classes. And having your own website. This is just scratching the surface for the cost of doing art.

“And still, some people complain about the price of a painting. I think all professional artists are tired of hearing that we should be only painting for the love of it, not for profit. Art for art's sake. Baloney!”

As a photographer can I whine about the years of training, the cost of workshops to improve my skills, the travel that may have gone into capturing that image, the time I’ve put into pulling the best possible print, the cost of the paper, inks, and presentation, and (not to mention) the cost of the photo gear used? No, I don’t talk about these things; the person who wants a lower price doesn’t really care about them anyway. Most photographers (as well as other artists) must at some time deal with the subject of being paid for your work. Those of us exhibiting our work in galleries have the liberty of setting our prices at a level we think reflects the intrinsic value of the piece as well as the value of the blood, sweat, and tears we put into creating it, but have also had to deal with customers who want something for practically nothing.

And then, there are stickier issues of the cost of my services as a photographer: “Since all you do is push a button, you don’t need to be paid very much”, “Come shoot for my fundraiser. It’s a good cause and your [free] contribution will make you feel good”. I once was contacted by a major arts organization in Wichita to come spend an entire day and evening photographing their gala event. It sounded like a wonderful opportunity until we got around to talking about my fee. They sincerely thought that I would be willing to spend ten hours of my time during the shoot, and easily twice that in post-production preparation of PR images for the magnificent sum of $50. I politely told them I would not be available that day after all. To be sure, there are non-profit organizations that I have for years supported in a variety of ways and for whom I shoot pro bono, but that is a labor of love. But that is my choice, and otherwise, love does not pay my bills. Certainly, related to that is the invitation almost every photographer has received, which goes along the lines of “Come to my [wedding, Bar Mitzvah, party] and be sure to bring your camera.” In other words, the speaker wants a photographic record, but is too cheap to hire it done properly.

Thank you for staying with me through this lengthy blog. I know that I have only scratched the surface, and have barely touched the cringe-worthy comments made to my studio artist friends. Feel free to add some of yours in the comments section!

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