The Shoot & Burn trend

When you go out to a nice restaurant, do you ask to purchase just the ingredients so you can bring them home and cook the food yourself? The whole point of going out is to enjoy great service and delight in the chef's ability to turn ordinary ingredients into a spectacular meal. In the same vein, the full professional photography experience is designed to be equally spectacular, from your first contact to final delivery of the artist's work.

SHOOT & BURN is photographer slang for hiring a photographer to make pictures for you, then having them burn a CD or DVD of those images. Printing, framing, layouts, book design, etc. becomes your responsibility.

Clients respond to this gimmick because it is less expensive. Photographers who use this approach do so because it eliminates the hardest part of the photographer's job - production.

Despite appearances, though, this is much more of a lose-lose than win-win.

Consider what attracts you to any artist - it is their final work, their artistic expression. Shoot & burn removes or dramatically lessens artistic expression. Plus, as the client, you wind up with a ton work to manage. The photographers lose because they are not able to present their strongest work in the best possible manner.

Here are four (4) versions of a single, in-studio portrait. This represents a best-case scenario for shoot & burn, because conditions for the photo shoot are fully controlled. Images coming out of the camera will require the LEAST amount of production work to render a final product.

From the top, you're looking at the same image (1) coming directly out of the camera, (2) after Auto toning in Photoshop, (3) after custom global toning in PS (i.e., adjusting for brightness, color & contrast), and (4) after professional retouching (i.e., every part of photograph is attended to as needed).

Clearly there is a HUGE difference between what comes out of the camera and the final image I deliver to my clients.

Depending on the agreement made with the photographer, shoot & burn clients will likely receive an image looking like the first or second (untouched or auto-toned). For a little extra, you could negotiate for custom-toned images (third from the top). Once you see the fourth image (professionally prepared), though, and realize what is possible, is that something you really want to give up?

I don't expect this blog post is going to stop the shoot & burn trend in its tracks, but I hope it gives you reason to stop and think a bit.

I am passionate about my work and a nut about the quality of images I deliver. Photographs are enjoyed for a lifetime...and often become heirlooms for future generations. They SHOULD be remarkable and SHOULD make you wonder how the photographer gets such amazing results.

My final thought is this - once you've made the decision to hire a professional photographer, be willing to invest the extra money to ensure you'll be as excited and proud of your photographs 10 & 20 years from now as you are the day you receive them. You'll be glad you did.