When photography goes from hobby to profession.
As somebody who has wanted to be a photographer for a number of years I have taken a very slow and deliberate approach in achieving that end. Some would say too slow. I've been taking pictures for over 3 years now, but I haven't really charged or even sought after paying gigs until quite recently. I'm very personally conflicted about this decision. I know I could have at least made some supplementary income taking pictures over these last few years, but there was always a nagging voice in my mind saying I wasn't ready to charge yet.
One of my favorite pastimes is trolling my local Craigslist "Creative" section, and checking out the ads that people post for their burgeoning photography businesses. If you haven't done this then I strongly urge you to do so, It's some of the best entertainment I've come across. Many of these people appear to have picked up their first dslr with a kit lens, taken out an unsuspecting family member for an ill conceived photo shoot, slapped on some "creative" special effects to the resulting images, and posted an ad promoting top quality photos for bargain basement prices. The results are usually (always) unflattering to the point of being frightening.
I spend my days pondering what becomes of these fauxtographers? Do they actually get jobs for this stuff? Do they ever get better? Most of all I wonder where these people get the gall to post these ads. I have taken plenty of bad pictures. I still don't think I'm a great photographer. I've probably made some questionable retouching decisions. That's why up until recently I wasn't comfortable charging for my work. That's why I find fauxtographers so unconscionable, not because I actually believe that they're taking away work from real professionals, but because they have such confidence in their abilities that they are will to actually take money for this work.
If I buy some duct tape, and a pipe wrench, am I a plumber? No. It would be insulting to other plumbers if I advertised top quality plumbing at a cheap price just because I was able to fix my sink at home. Learning the art of plumbing takes experience, knowledge, and lots of practice. For me photography is the same. I won't charge for my work until I can honestly tell myself that it is work worth paying for. Fake it till you make it? Well sure, but you at least have to know how to fake it. Self confidence probably isn't my strongest suit. Sure I may have grown up in the participation trophy generation, but I never really bought into that mentality. For that I give the fauxtogs props, they are a confident bunch. Unfortunately their confidence gives real photographers a bad name.
Note: There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a beginner photographer, and getting paid often has little to do with the quality of the work you produce. Everyone starts somewhere. I've never seen someone pick up a camera for a day and come away with an outstanding portfolio. That's why it is so hard to draw the line when it comes to Craigslist photographers. I wouldn't fault anyone who advertises a free photo session for the purpose of building their portfolio or getting experience. I do that kind of stuff all of the time (though I don't advertise it). There is a huge chasm between doing free work for experience, and bad work for money. A customer who isn't willing to pay should have implicit knowledge that they might not get a quality product.
And in the end the pictures you take are equal to the money you make -- or something like that
Any entrepreneur will tell you it is nearly impossible for a new venture to compete solely on price. Low cost, low quality photography is simply not sustainable as a long term business venture. Therefore, the fauxtog will eventually get bored/broke and quit, OR they can raise their prices and raise the quality of their product to compete.
Honestly, I probably should spend more time practicing my own photography rather than railing on others. Plus I get way too much joy out of bad photography for me to ever hope it actually goes away.