To Share or Not to Share?

Over the last three weeks I have released a pretty comprehensive video series teaching you how to shoot large products. I did it because I saw a gap. When I began shooting large products I struggled to find anything online which gave much information on shooting and editing things like sofas and beds, so I decided that I would fill said gap.

How to Photograph Big Products4.JPG

My reasoning was two-fold:

  1. I genuinely wanted to contribute some knowledge to the pool which I have drawn from in so many other areas.
  2. I thought it would bring some nice exposure for me as a photographer, which it certainly has.

But I remember a moment in the planning stage asking myself, 'Am I giving away too much?' It was only a moment, but I did have that doubt. I wondered if I should be a good little Capitalist and charge, or if I should tuck my little bag of tricks back in my pocket and forget the idea altogether.

Anyway, I went ahead and shot them anyway, and they ended up on blogs like SLRLounge, Fstoppers, ISO1200 and Petapixel. The response was gratifying. And then the inevitable comments rolled in. Most were very kind, but one conversation popped up suggesting my earlier doubts may have been founded. 

I'm going to reproduce it here for you because I think the debate is an interesting one. You'll see at the bottom where I landed on this issues of 'sharing vs not sharing' but there are some good comments made on both sides.

It started with:

As a Marketing Director of a furniture company I was going to hire professional photographers and pay them to do all my product photography, but now it is much easier thanks to this tutorial!

This free tuorial will save me thousands of dollars! Thank you PetaPixel and Sean Tucker for posting this!

P.S.: why do photographers do these tutorials and potentially ruin their own (and everybody else’s) business? I would NEVER show how to make my furniture, what tools and machinery I use, etc. Thanks anyways but really... you should think twice before posting this sort of stuff... “likes” and “tweets” normally don’t pay the bills.

This guy agreed:

I hate to admit it but this guy’s right.

TV chefs teach us how to cook at home and make their living as TV “stars”... the REAL chefs keep their techniques to themselves and make their living AS CHEFS.

Photographers should do the same... just saying...

Some people came to my defense and said:

*Start sarcasm* Yeah, a few more years and everybody can cook delicious meals at home and all the restaurants will be out of business... *End sarcasm*

Hate to tell you (not really), but both you and Jeff are wrong. Even if you magically mangage to get as much experience and craft as a seasoned photographer solely from this tutorial, I still doubt your time would be best spend photographing. As a furniture craftsman, if you have the time to photograph and edit images this way instead of making furniture, business musn’t be going that great :/

So, if you sell one chair a week and have spare time, feel free to try out this new craft with Sean’s great tutorial. If you are good at what you do - making furniture - stick to that, and leave the part of photographing your work to someone who can do this better, faster and more consistently than you.

Another person said:

Just because someone shows you the gear that’s used, it doesn’t mean you know exactly how to use it properly. Go ahead and post how you make your furniture and what equipment you use… 99.9% of people watching will still not be able to replicate what you do.

The tools don’t make the carpenter, just like the camera does’t make the photographer.

Finally my response was:

Hi Jeff. Sean here. The guy from the video.

Let me be the first to welcome you to the photography community. We’re a generous bunch with our knowledge, by and large. Sites like this, and many others besides, are rammed full of enough information to get you started in any field of photography you chose. I for one didn’t study photography in a formal institution. Instead I had to reboot my career years ago, and so I embarked on a journey as a professional photographer and videographer; a feat made possible because I was able to learn from other generous photographers who went before me and were willing to share their skills with me online and in person.

I made a promise to myself way back then that I would endeavour to model the same generosity.

Secondly, if I am able to impart enough knowledge for you to shoot and edit as well as me, in one hour, then I’m not really a photographer worth very much anyway. You may find that this process is a little more tricky than I make it look on camera, and you may just end up giving me a call when you are completely stuck because it doesn’t work as neatly for you as it does for me. That’s the difference between a brief tutorial and years of experience: consistency, problem solving and ease. You will know well that if you give me a quick one hour lesson and show me the tools of your trade, and then let me loose in your workshop to build furniture, you will be having a quiet giggle to yourself in the corner watching my bumbling efforts. I may even find myself throwing in the towel, calling you over to rescue me, and appreciating the skill it takes to do what you do. I said at the start of this video, ‘these are (only) basic tips and tricks’. You may find yourself shooting much better images than you did in the past and ‘saving yourself thousands of dollars’; in which case ‘you’re welcome’. That would make me genuinely happy. But more than likely you’ll be picking up the phone and asking a professional to help you out, because now you realise how difficult this process is. Not my intent, but certainly a reality in my experience.

Maybe this makes me a useless Capitalist, but if success for me means never sharing what I know with others, guarding my ‘secrets’ and bowing to the all-powerful dollar above building into the community which has given me so much, then I’m happy to be a failure; because it’s only due to the willingness-to-share of other generous ‘failures’ that I am where I am today.

Thanks genuinely for your comments. They really made me think.

Any thoughts of your own on this issue?