I’m a professional photographer. I also recognize that, increasingly, this designation seems to be losing its impact.
Besides being able to deduct equipment purchases on your taxes, what else does the title bring you?
How many of us are making it solely from our freelance photography income today? And what prevents someone who earns their primary income as an accountant or chiropractor from also calling themselves a photographer?
Let’s not get so hung up on the labels. I think it’s time for pros and hobbyists to call a truce.
Emerging from the Darkroom
Yes, I understand the reasons that traditional pros resent hobbyists, amateurs, “mamarazzi” or whatever you want to call today’s prosumer photographers.
Let’s look at the photographers with roots in film. I am among those who cut their teeth shooting film — miles and miles of it.
We’ve only recently emerged into the light, with our pasty-pale complexions, after spending a good portion of our careers “souping” film or developing and printing in the darkroom.
We had to learn contrast control, film latitude and exposure the tedious way. We shot, took notes on the settings we used, processed the film, made prints and confirmed what worked versus what didn’t.
Then we’d go out and do it again.
We spent a fortune in film, paper and chemistry, and we had no shortcuts in learning how to expose. We had to reconcile what our meter saw, what our eyes saw, what the camera recorded and, finally, how to make a good printable transparency or negative.
So you can imagine our annoyance when we see a newcomer show up with the latest, greatest DSLR that exposes 95 percent of the scene perfectly. It’s only natural to feel a little resentment at those who haven’t paid their dues.
Camera Owners Aren’t the Same as Photographers
It’s also true that, while having a DSLR makes photography easier, it doesn’t make you a good photographer. It only makes you the owner of a good camera.
A lot of hobbyists don’t seem to recognize the distinction.
Most DSLR owners, from expectant parents to vacationers, start with the objective of documenting events. They almost never make enlargements bigger than an 8 x 10 print. Most of their images live online, to be shared with friends and family on social networks.
Gamut, resolution, color temperature, file size and pixelation are meaningless to their online viewers, because at web resolutions, those flaws aren’t noticeable.
When I compliment the images I see on Facebook, I’m generally complimenting the photo’s subject on how good they look. I’m not complimenting the photographer, because at 72 pixels per inch, it’s just too difficult to tell if it’s actually a good picture.
But I’m sure there are many camera owners who, after hearing compliment upon compliment on their photos, start to believe they should be doing this professionally.
So they hang up a shingle online. They have invested in photo equipment, a suite of Photoshop plug-ins to mask their mistakes, maybe the magical one-touch skin softening software. They have not spent time learning the ins and outs of how to light, work with makeup artists, and all the other skills of established professionals.
And because it’s so easy, and because they make their living doing something else, it’s only natural to charge a fraction of what the pros charge, right?
Calling a Truce
So here we are. Now what?
First, you should realize that whether you’re a crusty old pro or a DSLR newbie, you can’t be everywhere to shoot everything. There are plenty of pictures for all of us to take.
So how about this for a compromise:
If we old pros promise not to snicker when we see you shoot on program mode and light a group of 20 people with your built-in pop-up flash and kit lens, will you newbies stop telling photography customers that you can do everything we can do for half the price?
Sounds fair enough to me.