First Be A Photographer

First Be A Photographer

I follow a very nice group of people on a forum on Facebook. They are all trying to start their businesses with varying degrees of luck and success.

One of the things that is emerging is that many of them are simply not ready to be professionals and in business. And that is a shame.

It is not a shame they cannot be in business, it is a shame that they thought it was as easy as buy a camera, get some business cards on the way home from the camera store and then shoot like one of their heroes shoots.

Not having any understanding that their hero spent years, decades even, learning and honing their craft, they think that if they copy the light and methods, success will be right around the corner.

It usually isn’t.

And while the perky workshop husband and wife teams go merrily out the door selling young photographers on how ‘easy’ it is to become rich shooting families and babies and weddings, the reality is that it is anything but easy.

Yes, they may have opened their doors five years ago, but they were shooting a lot longer than that.

Marketing plays a huge role as well, but that is a discussion for another time.

My take on all of it is that first, before the business cards and the promos and the vouchers and the awesome website and the perky videos… one must first BE a photographer.

Being a photographer means shooting technically and artistically without encumbrance. It means knowing the gear, how it works, how light works and how to use it to make the images you see in your head… or on someone else’s Pinterest.

Being a photographer means not struggling with simple light, and being able to concentrate on the shot at hand. Being a photographer means knowing what the shot is going ‘to turn out like’ before committing it to the film or sensor.

It takes time. And a lot of shooting and failing and screwing up. It takes understanding the win, and working through the challenges.

Football players generally play more than 8 years before they are considered by the pros. Tennis players play for years and years before getting to the pro circuit. Cello players and rock drummers play and woodshed and practice for decades to get to the point of becoming a paid musician.

Why would anyone expect photography to be any different.

I think it is important to shoot a lot of photographs, and love making photographs so much that it is all you want to do. Live photography and breathe photography and dance photography.

When you are shooting photographs that matter, photographs that everyone thinks is awesome, photographs that YOU think are awesome, you may turn around and realize that you are already a professional photographer.

That’s when the fun begins… really.

Thanks and see you next time.

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  1. I enjoyed your post and agree that being a photographer is much more difficult than it looks – but, I would say that some people have “the gift” the moment they shoot their first picture that they adore & they should follow that gift anywhere it will take them. And I believe that that “gift” can lead to success immediately if they have the confidence to pursue it. The best business plan, marketing, free Internet course can’t teach that. I encourage everyone, even those with sloppy business skills and bad lighting knowledge, to call themselves a photographer whenever their heart so desires & I wish them all the luck in the world.

    • Hi Julie.

      My post is not about how hard it is to be a photographer, it is about being a photographer first, and a professional photographer second.

      If someone has ‘the gift’ then they are a photographer.
      If someone has the ability to produce top-notch work, for any reason or with any experience, they are a photographer.
      Someone who picked up a camera last Thursday and are making their first images tomorrow is a photographer.

      Being a photographer comes first, becoming a Professional photographer comes after the first is established.

      No matter how long or what technical level they are… if someone is willing and eager to hire them, they become professional.

      But first…. they are photographers.

  2. I don’t mean to put this out as an absolute, but here are my two cents…

    One “takes” a snapshot. One “creates” an image i.e. Photoshop. And one “makes” a photograph.

    To be sure, snapshots and images are definitely part of the photographic record, and can be stunning and beautiful.

    I’m coming from this perspective. I spent the 70’s snapping away with an instamatic, the 80’s-90’s working medium and large format film, and the 90’s-2000’s doing digital graphics, including Photoshop.

    I absolutely agree with your sentiment, photographer first, “professional ” photographer 2nd.

    What I am seeing in a significant portion of the commercial portraiture these days however? The same photograph over and over and over. The same safe 2:1 lighting ratio. The same Photoshop layering and retouch.

    With that in mind, I decided to ditch the medium format (film is getting ridiculous anyway), and picked up a decent DSLR.

    The results and response have been hilarious. I use “guffaw” a handheld meter, and “snicker snicker” gray, white, and black cards for color balance once my exposure is set.

    I’m trying to, without being arrogant, educate a small group of younger photographers on how to actually take control of their equipment and “make” a photograph.

    Yes, I use trigonometry to determine depth of field. I use EV to determine my exposure value, and I break ALL the rules when it comes to strobes.

    But I can break those “rules” because I have taken my camera off the “P” setting, and switched it over to “M”, trusting my meter (and experience) to give me control over DOF and light.

    Thank you for taking the time to put up your sites, and give newbies the opportunity to learn “photography”.

    Yeah, I still have lots to learn. I don’t “know it all”, but a few weeks in, I’m selling my work. And I don’t even have Photoshop. *gasp*