I believe it was last summer when I was having dinner with Brad Moore at City Fish in Oldsmar, FL when he asked me to write my first post for Scott’s illustrious Guest Blog series. I was humbled, giddy, and nervous. As a longtime follower of Scott’s work, being asked to contribute marked a milestone in my career as a photographer. I fully admit modeling a lot of how I teach and relate with our users at onOne Software based on Scott’s practices, so you can imagine my surprise when I got an email from Brad a few weeks ago with the subject, “It’s that time again.” I am truly honored to reprise my role as guest contributor and I’d like to thank Scott, Brad, Matt, RC, Corey, Stinky Pete and the rest of my good friends at Kelby Media for doing so much to help so many of us reach our own milestones as photographers.
<Cue the Wayne’s World wave dissolve and smoothly segue to the post>
I will always remember the first time I admitted to actually being a photographer to someone. It was in late winter of 2009 and I was photographing the beautiful and frigid coastline of Provincetown, MA. At the time, I had a full time job at a software company that created products for the financial sector and I was also starting to make inroads with my own little commercial photography business. I already had a few solid gigs under my belt and had been lining up some more. Things were looking good and my goal was to move into doing this full time at some point in 2010. While I was photographing the Provincetown coastline, an elderly woman saw what I was doing, walked up to me, and asked me plainly, “What do you do?”
And to that, for the first time in my life, I answered, “I’m a photographer.”
Prior to that, I would have likely stumbled and stammered to justify what I was doing and I’m sure that more than a few of you can relate. For some reason, there is this layer of self-doubt that we have when owning up to answering this particular question. It’s almost as if we are trying to justify it to ourselves as we answer it. Before I move on to how this memory spurred the point of this post, let me clear the air. We are all photographers. Whether you are a casual hobbyist, an avid enthusiast or a part/full time paid professional, just by virtue of picking up a camera with the intention of freezing a moment in time, you are a photographer.
So why is it that so many of us get defensive when someone calls you an amateur photographer? It’s such a beautiful word, so appropriate for so many of us out there, and yet in the same breath, it is seen as a form of denigration—a lower rung in a caste system of photographers. Have you ever actually looked up the definition of amateur? While there are different interpretations of the word, the definition I wholeheartedly subscribe to is ‘a person who engages in a pursuit.’ Doesn’t that sound so lovely? It almost has a romantic feel to it. And it’s true after all, isn’t it? Aren’t we all actively engaged in the pursuit of our photography? While I consider myself a working photographer, I also wholly consider myself an amateur. Photography is my life and I will dedicate my time here to mastering it in my own way and helping others find their own paths.
But let’s go back to the issue at hand—namely, the consternation that we feel when we have to justify whether we are photographers. It was in thinking about this that I realized what I should write about. The problem lies in this pervasive need to seek the approval of as many people as possible in order to justify whether you are a photographer, and worse, whether you are even a good photographer. For many of us, the quality of an image has been relegated to the response rate and engagement percentage of a post you made on your social media outlet of choice. Good, honest, quality feedback has been supplanted by mindless Likes and +1s. Our entire scale of artistic growth has been commoditized whereas the clear voices of a small group of mentors and trusted friends have been replaced by a cacophony of fleeting words and phrases left as comments. And then there are the trolls and the flame wars. Small-minded people getting off on slicing and dicing anything that you share with impunity, no matter what the nature is.
The culmination of investing your emotions and tying your growth to all of these things can be terribly destructive and stifling for those photographers out there who are doubtful of themselves and not sure whether they feel like they can contribute anything meaningful to the world with their work. All of this static may serve to turn someone away, making them gun-shy to share their work or even pick up a camera in the first place. I am saying this because I know it to be true. I have friends who are impacted in this way and it truly saddens me and that is why I wanted to bring it to light here. Photography is only what you make it out to be for yourself.
Understand this: photography isn’t easy. There are no shortcuts. It’s laden with frustration and disappointment, but it’s also a labor of love. Yes, the barrier to entry for creating an image is extremely low—just pick up any device capable of capturing an image and press a button. If that’s as far as you want to take it, then by all means “snapshoot” away. I’ll support you 100%.
There is one lesson I’m hoping you take away from this: true growth in photography, or in any craft or vocation, requires confidence in yourself and confidence in your ability to dust yourself off when you do fail, because you will. It also means that you have confidence to weed out the static and confidence to pursue meaningful growth from those you trust and who will give feedback that is both constructive and supportive and not laced with anything else.
If there is one concept that I am vehemently passionate about, it is sharing of work. I share my work because I believe that is how I infuse the last piece of soul into my image. I also share the anecdotes and technical details surrounding the creation of my images because I absolutely love teaching my techniques and giving away the farm. I don’t share to get comments, +1s or Likes. They are most certainly appreciated but please understand that they aren’t any sorts of driving forces for me. I share because I am a photographer and sharing is the elemental outcome of being a photographer.
I’d like to leave you with what my hope is that you’ll take away from this post. Do you remember when I defined the word ‘Amateur’ up above? It is a person who engages in a pursuit, and in this case, the pursuit is photography. What I’d like you to think about is ‘who are you pursuing photography for?’ By determining the true answer to that question, I suspect you’ll find your individualized path to artistic growth appear a bit more clearly.
And always remember: never stop shooting.
Thank you for your time.