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The Business of Photography

My advice to young people interested in making a career out of photography is go to college and major in business with a minor in photography.

As a photojournalist, I take photographs for the purpose of publishing them in the media like newspapers, magazines, brochures, film, or video unlike the photographs taken by the Art photographer whose purpose is quite different. The MMPublishing Galeria is a different kind of media, the photographs on display have been previously published and the content of these is timeless. So, it is appropriate for them to be published again.
My goal is to make a living from something that I enjoy, whether it be from portrait photography or wedding photography. These types of photography are not necessarily published but are a source of income that cannot be ignored.

I’m used to carrying 2 cameras, 5 or 6 lenses and up to 100 roles of film. I will often carry studio equipment in a van and can set up a whole studio in half an hour. However, I don’t arrive at a location and immediately begin to unload. I first use whatever light exists, when that runs out and feel that I need to enhance the shot with light, I unload the reflectors. When that source of light runs out and I need more light then, I unload the lights.

Lets talk about digital cameras. Small point and shoot digital camera placed into the hands of a non-professional may produce adequate results for casual shots but the digital camera by itself cannot compensate for experience, proper lighting, and dependability. Let me first talk about dependability; a digital camera requires an external computer, if something goes wrong with the hardware or software it cannot be fixed as easily as replacing a bulb on an enlarger for example. About proper lighting; the flash may be inadequate or even detrimental to the shot, most built in flashes are limited to 10 ft. and consider the problem with taking an image of a work of art behind a piece of glass. About experience; the computer in the camera cannot compete with your brain. When you manually focus, you know exactly the result that you want to achieve, the computer in the camera would have to read your mind to achieve the same result.

The use of a digital camera in capturing pictures is called digital imaging, photography is itself a process that term can only be applied when film is used.

The benefits of digital imaging cannot be overlooked for business reasons alone. Film processing, usually outsourced to a lab, is a business expense charged to the customer. In digital imaging, I can do all of the "image processing" on the computer making it business income charged to the customer. In film processing, I do not have control over the time it takes to print the pictures. In image processing, I have complete control over the time it takes to print the pictures. These and other benefits have forced me to embrace this technology, however, the customer must understand that there is an esthetic difference between the two mediums and capturing the image is just the beginning, the end result could be quite different than the image captured even unrecognizable.

If you as a customer arrange for a portrait to be taken and a digital camera is being used, there are a couple of the things of which you must be aware. The number of pixels that the camera is capable processing and the "archival quality." of the printer used to print the final portrait. A camera with 5 megapixals per image captures more information than a camera with 2 to 2.5 megapixals so that the image is sharper because it contains more detail. The capture rate of the camera is important because with a slow capture rate would have you freeze a pose in front of the camera, with a fast capture rate a more natural expression can be captured. Often times the very next expression is the best and the camera has to be able to respond by taking that image as well. However, with less expensive digital cameras, a 4 to 5 second download time can be expected before the camera will allow you to capture another image. In more expensive digital cameras a buffer is provided so that one image can be captured immediately after another. To keep a portrait from fading or changing color, in either medium, archival quality photographic paper must be used and with digital imaging, archival quality inks must be used in conjunction with an archival quality printer. Archival quality means that the print should last 200 years. You should expect a portrait to last at least for your lifetime. Currently the Epson Stylus Photo 2000P is the only printer that boasts a 200 year archive capability.

I was an engineering major at a community college before going into the Air Force in 1966. I was trained as an Aircraft mechanic specializing in air conditioning and pressurization. This experience instilled a work ethic in me that later became a discipline in everything else that I tried to accomplish. While I was in Japan a photography teacher at a Hobby Center, set up for military personnel, encouraged me to pursue a career in photography. I value the time spent at that Center. In 1970 I finished my last tour of duty and I enrolled at the Fresno Community College. I impressed my instructors with a 3.8 GPA and was encouraged by them to pursue a career in journalism. I then transferred to San Jose State and decided that I would pursue a career in photojournalism. There were only two Latinos in that department so we were very well known on campus. I met another San Jose State student, Sonny Madrid, he was a bit of an activist on campus. One day Sonny approached me to see if I would be interested in taking photographs for a magazine that he wanted to promote. I asked him what kind of magazine, he answered that it was a magazine for and about low riders. At some point I accepted his proposition and "Low Rider" Magazine was born. We traveled all over California taking pictures of car clubs. Initially I had a preconceived notion of low riders but all that changed, I found that this was a family activity and that there were no car rallies but rather car parties. They were very hungry for recognition so we were given the star treatment just as if we were from Rolling Stone Magazine. Since no distribution for Latino publications existed, Sony did it all. Only 3 or 4 issues were published and distributed that first year. As the magazine attracted more advertising, it finally became a monthly publication. Low Rider Magazine has been called the most successful Latino publication in the country. I heard that it recently sold for about 20 million dollars. I parted with Sonny and Low Rider Magazine to finish my education. While I have never regretted receiving my degree from the Journalism department I have always wondered what if I had stayed with Sonny. What I learned from the experience was that for newspapers, magazines, and other media to sell advertising they need to have a large circulation and the larger the circulation, the more that they can charge for the advertising. A new publication with no circulation cannot attract advertising from large companies, so you have to do everything yourself and you must define a segment of the population that will support and embrace it.

I later worked for another magazine Latino Stereotypes and learned printing and graphics by working for companies in either field. In 1991, I began a five year involvement with MACLA (Movimiento Artista y Cultura Latino Americano) as a member of the Board of Directors. The organization produced different Latino programs and was the force behind the construction of the Center for Latino Arts in San José. For more information about this organization go to www.maclaweb.org. During this time I participated in a program titled "Mentors". Established Latino artists would recommend an artist they had mentored for this particular show. I took portraits of each of the entrants and their mentors together while showing some type of relationship between the two. The portraits were very prominently displayed at the show and in the promotions for the show.

I also participated in another program, the Low Rider Bike show. Bikes as Art was the theme and I took portraits of each participant with their bike. These portraits were then placed on 4’ by 6’ banners and suspended vertically from the ceiling in the exhibit hall.

My advice to young people interested in making a career out of photography: Study every artist and photographer’s work that you can and if possible talk to them; avoid photographic clichés; remember that the camera is just a tool for the professional photographer; go to college with a major in business and minor in photography.

Dennis Gaxiola has been invited to exhibit his Low Rider Bike portraits in the Galeria, in March 2002. He has graciously accepted and MMPublishing invites you to revisit the Galeria and view this exciting exhibit with your family. END

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