Ask the expert
kc kratt: The professional photographer in the DIY world

By Terri Hilmey

With all of the new technology, where would you help a retail customer draw the line between doing it themselves, or using a professional?
It really depends on the client’s skillset, and their equipment. Lots of cameras, on a consumer level, are very good. People can buy very high-quality cameras, and can take good pictures without having to know very much.

What can you do for them that they can’t do at home?
A tremendous amount of technique, and lighting, style, etc. But I do commercial advertising and annual reports. I don’t do any retail work [weddings or family portraits] at all.

What do you do for your commercial clients?
They hire me because of what I can do, and what I can bring to it. ... It’s really all about communication. The photograph tells a story, and the photographer has to be able to tell a story visually. If it’s possible, I try to scout a location first, mostly the setting and the backdrop. I don’t worry so much about lighting, because I generally bring a couple of hundred pounds of lighting equipment with me. But I love to see it ahead of time.

What have technological advances meant to the professional photographer, in terms of your equipment, the approach to your work, marketing, etc.?
On the professional level it’s probably 98.5% digital. There are very few photographers working with film anymore. The professional cameras are now of such high quality and yet so flexible, compared to film, almost nobody shoots film anymore. ... Kodak continues to cut back on the production of film, and, in fact they stopped producing black and white paper altogether, three years ago.

What about your job do you find most difficult?
Now the most difficult thing comes with the digital advances. In the days of film, I always had an assistant, and essentially once I took the picture, the assistant would process it and get it to lab, I would do a quick edit and out the door it would go. We would shoot just what we needed, because you wouldn’t waste film. In the age of digital, you shoot a lot more, and you can be much more fluid with your shooting. But because I have to edit all of it, I no longer have an assistant. They can’t do the editing for you—nobody can do the editing for you. It’s in your head; you know what you saw. ... And you have to back up everything twice for the client. I now spend hours on the computer every day. That’s the downside.

What about your job do you enjoy most?
I love that every day I’m photographing something different. I get to kind of reinvent it and reinterpret it, and do it differently than it’s been done. I get to meet very interesting people. ... Being a commercial photographer in a smaller market, like Buffalo, allows you to do a variety of things, whereas in a larger market, you would tend to specialize in one particular type of photography. In a smaller market, you can stay a lot fresher and not get as burned out. You learn a lot on the job. I’m somebody who always asks questions, so whether I’m in an office, or a meatlocker, I always wonder how things are being done.

Terri Hilmey is a freelance writer and mother of three living in Williamsville.


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