Are you a REAL Photographer

David duChemin of pixelatedimage got into it on Twitter (check  his twitter stream: ) yesterday. This is what he posted there to start things off:

Just saw this quote: “To really be a photographer, you have to be a business…” BALONEY! Please discuss…

The issue in question was what makes a “real” photographer. There was lots of lively conversation if you can call it that on Twitter. It is really hard to follow though unless you can see all the 140 character thoughts from everyone chiming in. So, to clarify, David has a post today to clarify his position: A Question of Definition.

I couldn’t agree with him more. Why we need to tie money to art/sport/craft/activity to legitimize it is very frustrating. I realize that it comes from people that get paid for their craft/art wanting to separate themselves from others, but the only thing that is separating them is the money. As a people that buy¬†goods and services, watch actors, hire¬†trades people,¬†and buy art, we get so caught up in the “If it costs more, it must be better” crap.¬†People that do amazing things or create amazing images should be able to charge more for their work/art, but price is not the sole indicator of the value of that work.

This may seem slightly off topic, but I think it’s related: I have been trying to take portraits of people at low or no cost recently to try to build up a portfolio, as I would like to be able to make money at photography. I am surprised at the amount of flack that I have taken from other paid photographers. They are kind of annoyed that I am doing this. They tell me I need to respect my work more. Really? I think they need to respect their own work more. Because if they are worried about my photographs competing with theirs on price, then they must not think their photographs have more value than mine. I think these two things are tied. People making a living from something want to keep making a living from it. That I understand, so step up and make better pictures of more value.

I am also computer programmer, and I have seen these issue for some time in this field. It started with a little OS called Linux. It spawned a huge group of programmers creating free and open source software. People have debated whether these programmers are “real” programmers, and often say that if they were any good, they would spend their time getting paid for the code they write. What a bunch of baloney. I have worked with several people in my career that wouldn’t be allowed to add code to an open source project because their code isn’t good enough. The higher profile projects have a tougher peer based vetting process than any company out there. But still the perception exists that this code can’t be any good, because people weren’t paid to write it. I have no problem with people writing code for free, and often¬†incorporate open source projects in work that I do. It is my job when looking for work to show my employer the value in my wage.

Given free time, people will fill that time doing things they love to do. For some that is writing creative interesting programs. For others it is searching for that perfect photograph that matches the vision in their head without the constraints of a client. Others, like my wife Annie, can sew and create clothes that could easily fit in to boutique children’s clothing shops, but she does it because she loves to make them, and see them on our kids. Many people work in factories getting paid to churning out crap clothes. The fact that someone is paid for the labour¬†doesn’t always have¬†bearing on the quality of the clothes.

Is there a difference between a professional and an amateur? Absolutely. Sometimes. 🙂 One of the things that can separate the professional from the amateur is consistency and repeatability under pressure. Some people getting paid for what they do don’t have these issues, but I think these traits¬†exist for professional photography and many other professions.

For example, a professional photographer that is shooting a wedding, on a commercial shoot, or a product shot with a client over their shoulder, or at a families home taking a portrait has to be able to produce. They need to be able to produce a technically quality product every time in a reasonable amount of time. And for the better paid photographers, need to come up with something creative on the spot that sets them apart from the rest and gets them repeat business. To me this is the key. If I shoot several hundred pictures of flowers over a week, I am going to have some good ones. But, when told money is on the line, that I need to create a great picture right now of that flower over there, can I do it? The question right there is not who given unlimited amounts of time can pull off a beautiful picture, but who can deliver something the client wants right now.

That is not to say that there aren’t amateurs that have the skill to do so. I know that there are. They are choosing not to pursue photography as a profession for reasons other than lack of skill, and that’s ok.

Same goes for programmers, especially consultants. You are expected to have ideas and the ability to sit down and start working on solutions with someone looking over your shoulder. Lots of people given enough time to sit and mull it over and google for solutions, and browse the web for ideas can come up with a solution, or program, or design, or image. But can you do it on demand? To me that is why a professional is paid for it. This is not to say that a professional will always do better work either.

I see this time and again in other trades, like carpentry, plumbers, and electricians. I can do pretty much any of the things they can do if I am given enough time. I might not have the best or ideal tool for the job, I may have to ask around a bit, and it will for sure take me longer. But, I know that on my own house, I have stuff that I have done better than similar stuff a professional did. It would have taken them one hour to get what they did done, and it took me a whole weekend, or week, but my results were sometimes better. On the other hand, I have tile in my bathroom that was put together with a skill and artistry that there is no way I could have matched, no matter how much time I put in. That is the person I have recommended time and time again. Not because they got paid to do what they did, but because of what they did.

I’ll¬†come back and summarize with photography. You don’t need to receive money, or have spent a certain amount of money on a camera to be a photographer. To love taking pictures, and a¬†desire to capture instantaneous moments is to me what makes a photographer.