Interview - Ryan McGregor, Photographer
‘Without photographers there is no photography’
With a career in photography that spans over 20 years and that took him to visit all the continents in the planet, the photographer Ryan McGregor is our interviewee of this issue.
In an interview given to our editor-in-chief Sandra Masujiro, Ryan talked about the developments and challenges of photography and photography business over the last two decades. What changed and why, as well and provided us an interesting insight over the photographer sector on the perspective of both photographers and models.
Hot Lips Magazine (HLM) - You have started your career over 20 years ago. What changed since then?
Ryan McGregor (RM) - Yes, I did. I can say that I started professionally in photography around 1997, so roughly 22 years ago. A lot have changed, really a lot. In my opinion there were two major factors that led to the change: one - the revolution of digital (photography) and two - the internet.
Digital photography and everything attached (digital cameras, printing and storing system, etc.) acted like a real revolution.
Suddenly it was possible to see immediately the photo that you just had done and, with that, came the possibility of correct things on the spot. This allied to the non-limitations of a film that had (have) a limited number of frames and that is limited by default to a certain light sensitivity and other characteristics came to change all the game. Now you can virtually have a complete different setting for each shot as well as almost unlimited capacity. Before you shoot 36 or 48 photos (if you are allowed) to get 2 to 3 good shots and that was a
“Session”. Nowadays people shoot 300, 400 or more photos in some 2 hours time and then want to produce an output of 200 (or more) good photos... It's rubbish! There is no such thing as a photo-shoot that delivers 200 or 300 good photos.
HLM - How many good photos can we get then from a photo-session?
RM - Well, it depends of many factors, it depends if you are shooting in studio or location, if the location is indoors or outdoors, the concept, the purpose. It’s almost impossible to say exactly but I would say that if you can get 10% of good photos from the total count, it was a good
HLM - So 20 to 30 photos is a good outcome? What about the remaining ones. What to do with those?
RM - Yes, definitely! You see, it really depends on how perfectionist are you. Of course from the 20 or 30 you need to narrow those down to 10 to 15 may be. As for the others, I would say one of two things can be done: either you really enjoy what is there and although is not “perfect” it is usable and can help you by serving as reference to improve or can be edited to correct some flaws and in that case you catalogue those photos and you keep them; or you just pretend that never happened and bin them immediately.
HLM - Is not that a “hard” decision and a waste of resources?
RM - It might be seen that way but, if you keep every single rubbish shot you make, in the end of a year you end up with a couple of hundreds of thousands of digital files that occupy space (in hard-drives or other ways to store them) and that are also expensive. A bad photo is like a broken chair, you can throw it and you solve the problem or you can keep it in a
storage room hoping that one day you will find a miraculous solution for it. It does not happen. Trust me, I tried.
And then, yes, nowadays it is a bit complex to do that because a photoshoot is back to be terribly expensive (like in the old days). If before was the equipment, materials and processing that was super-expensive, nowadays is people. I can say that a model earns now about 10-fold what they used to earn 15 or 20 years ago. In that sense the market is really different now and to choose wisely the people with whom you are working with is crucial.
If you do not have money to waste, you must be very careful on model recruitment. There are models that worth every dollar you spend on their model fees and there are others that are charging for their time when they are the ones that should be paying for the photographers time.
HLM - You mentioned just now the changes on the market and the model’s fees that are now a lot higher. Why do you think this happens?
RM - I am not a specialist on markets or macroeconomic issues but I do believe that is related with the second factor that I mentioned earlier - The Internet. Nowadays it is easy to access it, it is easy to “get to be known” in the internet and people confuse “being known with having
your work recognized”, which are two completely different things.
In the old days, models and specially “new models” would aim to work with the best photographers they could afford, creating and maintaining a quality portfolio that then would allow then to engage in other jobs like acting roles, or advertising, among others, and that is from where the real money would come, not from the photo-shoot itself. First models would invest in having a good portfolio and getting to be recognized in the industry, then they would aim to make money.
Nowadays a girl starts shooting (selfies in a mirror on Monday) and by Wednesday already wants to be charging model fees as if she was in the business for decades. It’s the “silliness” of the internet and specially of the so-called "Social Media".
It’s reaching a point that people stopped thinking even, they now consider being “featured” by a fellow Instagram or Facebook user the same (or more) as being “published” by a magazine or reference website. It’s absolutely silly and would be quite painful when in a couple of months or years they realize that what they have “built” was just like a “house of cards” that will fall to the slightest blow.
A career on Instagram is not a career, it’s a hobby, at the most. Social Media platforms came to turn “self-advertising” easier and cheaper, to break spacial barriers, allowing anyone around to globe to get to know you and follow your work or life but this cannot be confused to any form of success. A successful model, as a successful photographer, is one featured on the pages of reference magazines, newspapers, books, exhibitions catalogues and framed in the walls.
HLM - You mentioned models and photographers alike. Does the same happens to photographers?
RM - Correct! Photography suffers from the exact same “cancer”. Anyone that can afford a camera (of any kind) thinks that he/she is a photographer. Like if buying a camera is like adding a sugar spoon to a glass of hot water and then you just steer and you get an “Instant Photographer”.
Of course digital came to make things easier and faster, as I mentioned, but all the basic skills and knowledge remain to be necessary to produce quality work, otherwise you are just “a fool hoping to get lucky”, hoping that one of those 500 photos you take during a session end up being right.
Shooting with a bad photographer/model is in fact like playing roulette in the casino.
HLM - Is that right that the photographer is still the most important factor to progress in the industry?
RM - Definitely! You see... It’s very simple... Without the photographer there is no photography, so if there are no photographs there are no models, as models can only exist if they “model” for someone. You can say they can model for a painter or a draughtsman, sure! How many are they? In addition, if there are no photographers to produce the photographs how can the models show their works and modeling skills? We go back to live castings? I don’t think so. Models need to bare this in mind, if they are seriously into the business, your photographers are the pebble-stones that will allow you to cross the river. Your success depends in a good part of them, the same way that their success also depends on you. It’s a reciprocal relationship, a symbiosis if you like, in which from the interaction between two or more people, result benefits for all of them.
HLM - Is that the solution for the survival of model and other photography art forms?
RM - I believe so and I am striving for that. I know many others that are also in the same mood and mindset but, specially in Asia, I feel that there is a very high sense of greed. People speak too highly of themselves when they have not proven nothing yet and they often show intense and selfish desires for wealth, power, or fame.
Back from where I come from we have a quote that goes: “If you take too much water at one time you will dry the spring”, as in a way to say, “if you get too greedy, may be you can get a lot
of money in one time but you ruin the possibility of getting a long-term relationship that would give you a continuous and steady income”.