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Area Photographers on the Value of Professional Images in the Age of Selfies

Back row from left: Andi Rice; Ron Pride; Beau Gustafson; Antonio Boswell. Front row from left: Claire Brickson; Larry O. Gay; Amarr Croskey gather for a group shot in downtown's City Walk BHAM. (Joe Songer, For The Birmingham Times)
By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson
For The Birmingham Times

With camera phones in the hands of nearly everyone on the globe, anyone can take a picture. But that doesn’t make them photographers, say professionals across the Birmingham metro area.

Given the advanced technology with most phones, pros say they have nothing against anyone who uses their devices for selfies (self-portraits taken with a cellphone) or other pictures. Still, nothing still can top work by a professional photographer.

“Can you really expect the same quality out of a $5 steak that you would from a $100 steak?” said Andi Rice, of Andi Rice Media Works, who said he’s taken a few selfies for fun. “Hiring a professional ensures that the skill, service, and quality of the product [or photo] is supremely sound.”

“Cellphone images are great for quickly capturing moments,” said Taneisha K. Tucker, of Taneisha Tucker Photography. “For a lasting impression, hire a professional photographer.”

In the age of selfies, only one thing matters: “Do I look good?” A high-quality photo, on the other hand, captures much more.

According to Beau Gustafson, of Big Swede Media Works, “The purpose of [a professional] is not only to create an image in which the subject looks great but also to create an image that takes into account the purpose the image communicates [for someone], whether it’s a business person, a doctor, a lawyer, or a gospel singer.”

The Birmingham Times interviewed several professionals over the past two months about the purpose and power of their work in a selfie generation. Here’s what some had to say.

Antonio Boswell

Antonio Boswell. (Joe Songer, The Birmingham Times)

“It’s not about what you like, it’s about what’s going to work,” said Birmingham-based Antonio Boswell, of A. Boswell Media Services, who shoots a variety of images and events but has become an advocate for professional headshots.

Investing in the work of a professional will pay dividends later because these artists create visual masterpieces, said the 51-year-old Birmingham native and Alabama State University grad, who sees his work as more than a simple hobby. For Boswell, photography is a passion, particularly when it comes to helping other business owners.

“If it’s not helping you make money in business, then it’s not effective,” said Boswell, who has a process to make sure every individual gets value from time spent in his studio.

“I need to know three things: who you are, what you offer, and who makes up your target audience,” he said.

Boswell has been shooting images since high school, where he was in the photography club. He launched his full-time business in 2017.

Visit Antonio Boswell’s Facebook page, A. Boswell Media Services, to view his work and book an appointment.

Amarr Croskey. (Joe Songer, For The Birmingham Times)

Amarr Croskey

Birmingham native Amarr Croskey, of Croskey Productions, has corporate clientele but also shoots cellphone images for some of his clients. The 28-year-old, who favors the Canon brand for his work, sees no conflict because each medium works for specific clients.

“I believe selfies are so common now because they offer self-expression and creativity,” said Croskey. “Due to ever-increasing technological advances, cellphones and social media create a pathway for individuals to express themselves to others across the planet.”

Still, he added, “I believe there is a tremendous amount of value in professional photography because it inspires others to create. Inspiration is the greatest gift one can give from their artwork.”

Amarr Croskey’s work can be viewed on Instagram here or Facebook at Croskey Productions.

Taneisha Tucker

Taneisha Tucker. (PROVIDED PHOTO)

Most people don’t understand the long-term value of a professional photo and what’s required to create it, said Taneisha K. Tucker, of Taneisha Tucker Photography.

“For some, photography is a profession, [not a hobby], and experts deserve to be paid for their time and expertise,” said Tucker, who has captured a few images with a cellphone camera but prefers the ease and expertise of her camera.

“Professional photographers must use expertise, state-of-the-art cameras and editing equipment, and more to create beautiful images,” she said.

Visit Taneisha Tucker Photography to view the artist’s work.

Beau Gustafson

Beau Gustafson. (Joe Songer, For The Birmingham Times)

Regarding the price of a photo shoot, Beau Gustafson understands that it could deter some people: “When a person is ready to invest in a professional image for marketing and publicity, why would [they] want a so-so image or one that gets lost in the thousands of images people are inundated with on a daily basis?”

Gustafson encourages businesses, especially, to hire “a professional to craft an image that gets noticed and helps [them] stand out from the crowd.”

Prices vary based on each client’s individual needs, but one of Gustafson’s basic headshots can start around $200.

There’s so much work that goes into the final product, he said.

“A professional photographer makes a thousand choices before taking the picture, so that the subject can shine,” said Gustafson, who is in his mid 50s.

Photography has been Gustafson’s only job since the age of 18. Originally from Denver, Colorado, he has also worked in Los Angeles, California, London, England, and New York City. He’s a fan of the Canon brand and has contributed photography for 30 cookbooks.

“Food and people are two of my mainstays in my profession,” said Gustafson. “But I do take selfies to post on social media.”

To see Beau Gustafson’s images, visit his Facebook page or his website, Big Swede Media Works Inc. (bigswede.net).

Claire Brickson

Claire Brickson. (Joe Songer, For The Birmingham Times)

Claire Brickson, 27—who shoots on a Nikon Z6 II, a mirrorless model she bought for herself to shoot The 2022 World Games in Birmingham—said cellphone photography is still “valid,” but there are benefits to hiring a professional, including equipment cost.

“When you’re hiring a photographer, you’re also, in essence, renting the equipment they own, which is so expensive and requires such an upfront cost. It’s part of why it costs so much to get a photographer,” said Brickson, adding that without a professional, special moments are more likely to either go undocumented or be poorly captured.

“[There’s a benefit to] having someone [at an event] who’s designated to take photos and has invested in themselves in developing their eye and figuring out how to make sure they don’t have that moment of like, ‘Oh, shoot, I just missed what would have been a really good photo.’ [Professional photographers have] practiced to where we hopefully have fewer of those instances,” Brickson said.

Claire Brickson’s work can be found at https://clairebrickson.com or on her Instagram page: @hennessey_claire.

Andi Rice

Andi Rice. (Joe Songer, For The Birmingham Times)

Andi Rice, of Andi Rice Media Works, serves mainly corporate clients. He learned the skill with a camera from his mother when he was young.

“She said, ‘Smile and have fun while you work, and you will never work a day in your life,” said Rice, adding that he understands why selfies are so popular now: “It’s just an evolution of time and a result of technological advancements.”

Although unwilling to share his age, he does share that he’s been shooting photos for at least three decades. It started as a hobby when he was a youngster, then he launched out full-time in 2009, after being laid off from a job.

Rice keeps it very relatable when the issue of price becomes a priority regarding his profession. He can’t give a standard price, as it varies based on the assignment. He also has been blessed to have not needed a business website, he said, but he does showcase his work on Instagram.

Contact Andi Rice on Instagram at Andi Rice Media Works.

Desiree Greenwood. (PROVIDED)

Desiree Greenwood

Desiree Greenwood, of Desiree Danielle Photography, specializes in images for entrepreneurs and business owners and offers a number of pricing packages. While she certainly champions the use of professional camera work, she, like Rice, said selfies have their place, too.

“Selfies are common because of the upgrade in technology,” said Greenwood. “These phones take some amazing images, and I do think selfies and phone images are great to capture real-time moments.”

The 30-something Greenwood adds, “People spend money on what is valuable to them. … For someone who understands the value and quality of professional images, they won’t have a problem investing in them.”

Visit Desiree Danielle Photography to contact Desiree Greenwood and check out some of her work.

Larry O. Gay

Larry O. Gay. (Joe Songer, For The Birmigham Times)

While smartphones are convenient, Larry O. Gay, 66, said he never finds a reason to shoot stills using a phone because he’s always got a better camera on him. Sometimes, he will shoot short video clips on his smartphone and upload them to Facebook and Instagram, he said.

Today, pretty much everybody “is a photographer,” with cellphones, Gay said.

A personal investment of time and energy is still needed for improvement, though, he added: “It’s just a matter of getting out and putting the time in. Just try to be creative with whatever vision you have or whatever you want to photograph. Just go out, and just do it.”

View some of Larry O. Gay’s work on Instagram here or his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/larry.o.gay

Ron Pride. (Joe Songer, For The Birmingham Times)

Ron Pride

Ron Pride, of Pride Photography and Media Services, said selfies are popular for one reason: “It’s just easy to jump in front of the camera on your own phone.”

“Plus, you don’t have to get comfortable with the photographer and you can look as crazy or as serious as you want in your photos,” he said.

Pride is quick to add, however, that he doesn’t take or use cellphone photos—at all.

As a professional, Pride sees the significance of recording life’s most memorable moments through photography.

“I’m sure that pricing [for professional photography] has a stigma associated with it, but I ask everyone, ‘After everything is done, the wedding is over, the birthday party has ended, and the food is all gone, what do you have to remember your special occasion?’ That’s where our pictures come in,” Pride said.

The 65-year-old has been in the business since 1977, while he attended Jefferson State Community College. Pride, who grew up in Birmingham, said he’s a Nikon man.

To check out some of Ron Pride’s work, visit Pride Photography and Media Services.

Value in Professional Images

Aside from all else, these professionals agree that images should do one main thing—help tell your story.

Greenwood said it boils down to what you consider important.

“I think people spend money on what is valuable to them,” she said. “Someone who understands the value of professional images won’t have a problem spending money on them.”

Your images are not only about helping you make money, Boswell said, adding that should help tell your authentic story—right where you are now.

“Some people want to come out looking like millionaires, but wouldn’t it be best to look nice and professional right where you are? The goal is to make connections. An image should tell a story, which then helps you make connections,” Boswell said.

Tucker agrees: “I believe that whether you take pictures for fun or professionally, you should photograph what matters most to you. Pictures always serve a purpose because they tell a story. They provide the forever memory of a person, place, or thing.”

Birmingham Times staff writer Ryan Michaels contributed to this article.