Amateur Hour

HI_0141-2, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

Somebody posted something on Facebook today that has irked me a bit, so I thought I would vent a bit today. The post reads something along the lines of “you are an amateur in photography, nobody goes on to being a pro without doing this…” and then has a link to some page with some pointers/tips on how “real” photographers take pictures. It all sounds very nice and good, but the trouble with this is, well, it’s just *wrong.* Allow me to explain.

For starters, what is a “pro” photographer? Somebody who makes money? How much money? If you get paid two cents, does that make you a pro? What about if you shoot a grand, lasting image and donate it to a museum, does that make you a “pro?” Even if you didn’t get any money for the shot? What about if somebody pays you $250 for a framed piece of yours, but you paid the model $300 and you spend $2500 on camera gear? Pro then? At what point do you become pro? When you make most of your money from photography? I’ve said this before but, what happens when somebody makes $50,000 a year on the stock market and also makes $10,000 (say) on their images? Are they considered pro? Even if they do not have a job? What about all of the people who work in high-tech but shoot/sell images on the side? Are they pro? Would they become “pro” if they quit their higher paying “day jobs” but went and got another day job, working at, say, a fast food joint? Would that make them “pro” because, according to the definition, you have to make “most” of your money from photography, right? So, suddenly working for McDonald’s and not working in high-tech would make a high-tech employee a better (read: “pro”) photographer? That sounds wrong to me on so many levels, it’s not even funny.

Of course, amateur is anybody who is *not* pro, right? Even somebody who, say, has been shooting for 50 years, is happily retired, takes the craft of photography very seriously, but just isn’t interested in selling any prints? Complete rank amateur you got there, right?

Then there are the “tips” themselves. I’m always leery when somebody says, “all pro photographers do this” no matter what it is. I know probably hundreds of “pro” photographers and, newsflash here, not all of them do the same thing! There is no be all end all everybody *must* do this in the bunch. Every one of them, each and every one of them, became “pro” in their own way, in their own right. Every photographer has his or her path.

Some photographers, for example, go to school to learn photography. Others don’t. Some attend continuing education class. Some study art. Others study music or philosophy or whatever and transition to photography latter on in life. Some photographers, you could say, are born with a camera in their hand. Their dads or moms or grandparents or relatives were all photographers and they were given cameras at the ripe old age of 3. Others? Maybe they got stuck taking pictures one time when they were in the army and it just sort of stuck, they liked it. Some photographers are trained as artists, others journalists. Some are storytellers, others frustrated painters. Some shoot people, others buildings, some do nature or flowers or grass seeds or…my point is, there’s no one *thing* any pro photographer does. Saying “all the pros do it” is akin to saying “but, Mom, all the other kids are doing it” in the schoolyard. In case you can’t follow that reference, Mom’s pretty smart and pretty sure that not all of the other kids are, in fact, doing it (whatever “it” might happen to be.) No, sorry to inform you, there is no magic bullet that will suddenly make all of your images look like a “pro” took them. Such a thing just simply does not exist.

I’ve always told people I “live a photographic lifestyle.” What I mean by that is that I’m always doing some form of art or photography. Always. Even if it looks like I’m at home watching the news or ironing or whatever, there’s always a gear, sometimes in the very back of my head, slowly turning, churning out new images, even if they only exist in my mind. Even if they never come to be, I’m always working on my next shot and things are always turning around in my mind. That mental gymnastics doesn’t make me a “pro” photographer, anymore than, say, having a $10,000 camera does, but I like to think it makes me a serious photographer (on some level.) I’m serious about image-making and I’m devoted to the craft of photography, trying each and every day to get better and better at it.

In photography, there’s what you like and what you don’t. There are images that inspire, images that you want to take and sometimes too images that you just get. They are yours. You have to learn to take what the camera can give you and stop trying to chase some magic elixir, which doesn’t really exist. In the words of the famous Nike ads, “Just Do It!” Don’t let some dweeb on the web define for you what you *must* do in order to be a pro, just continually take images that are better and better-images that make you happier and happier, because they come closer and closer to your own, personal “vision” as an artist. Do that, and people will think you a “pro” no matter how many burgers you flip or how much your prints sell for in the aftermarket.

It’s amateur hour all of the time. What’s that they say? “All the world’s a stage and all of the men and women merely players…” Sounds about right to me, even if I’m not “pro” photographer myself (whatever that means.)

Until next time…

1 Comment

  1. Great Grandma Lin
    July 13, 2013 / 1:52 pm

    Interesting post-pro vs. amateur and then there are many who can't label themselves as a poet or writer because they aren't skilled enough or famous or whatever. It takes self confidence to admit that you are a poet, writer, photographer, etc without even adding the pro part. What does it matter? Follow your passion and continue perfecting your art/craft…

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