I, Photographer

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 denigrationâ”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 â˜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 handâ”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 lowâ”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 â˜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 â˜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.

You can see more of Brian’s work at BrianMatiash.com, and find him on Google+, Twitter, and Facebook.

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28 Comments

  1. It’s so wonderful seeing you here as a guest poster again, Brian. I remember really noticing you here for the first time from your guest post last year … oh how time has flown and how things have changed. :) So proud of you!!!

  2. Awesome Brian, I was thinking it wa 09 wen you led us on the HDR walk, maybe 10. You have done an awesome job at OnOne, they got a good catch with you and I love 7!! I heard you had a talented, beautiful girl friend too! :) (I believe she beat me to first post) that’s love!

  3. Wow, thank you for sharing your wonderful perspective!

  4. Inspiring words and work, thank you for this insightful post.

  5. You nailed it, Brian. Excellent post! :)

  6. Excellent blog post Brian. Never been prouder to call myself an amateur photographer.

  7. And then there is that moment when you can’t quite express what you feel and know on the inside and then someone does it for you. Thank you Brian. Now if only I could get my wife to read this…lol.

  8. So inspiring. Thanks Brian.

  9. Well done, truely inspiring! Each day, regardless of what you do, you have to pick yourself up…dust off…and move on. As a working photographer, I miss the days of being an “amateur.”

  10. Great post Brian. I am right with you in your definition of an armature. But not only is an armature ‘a person who engages in a pursuit.’. They also engage in that per suit for the pure love and enjoyment of it. This is unlike the professional, who is also motivated by the money he or she makes. Being an armature is indeed a high calling!

  11. Great post Brian! This resonated with me on so many levels. I totally agree. Comments are great but not why we continue to create our art and share. Kinda like a child placing a crayola masterpiece on the fridge. It’s not the admiration of the family that drives the artist, but its nice to get noticed and appreciated ocasionally. Regardless, the artist always gets back to the next project.

  12. I feel guilty complimenting your blog, as you don’t post in search of +1’s. Oh well, great post Brian.

  13. Excellent post and motivating, Brian! You’ve touch on just about all the mental resistance to telling folks that I’m a photographer. I have a daughter-in-law that is one of those people that thinks if you retouch a photo, you’re cheating. Everytime, I have to explain to her how the RAW photo works and darkroom principles use by Ansel Adams. She doesn’t get it. I’ve learn so much from Scott and crew, but recently I’ve been highly motivated by your Innovation Series over at onOne! I’ve just started using your software and I’m still learning a bunch from your videos! Thanks again for reminding me that I am a photographer no matter what my daughter-in-law thinks. :-)

    Dennis

  14. Excellent message in your guest blog. I will now not hesitate to call myself a photographer. But having said that…and in deference to your statement of not looking for “likes” or “1+s”, etc. when you post of shot…Your photos are just beautiful and moving. Thanks.

  15. Brian that is so helpful and true. I tend to get caught up sometimes in how many +1’s or likes I get when in actuality the only true judge of the images I make is me and whether or not I am happy with the image. Thank you for shedding some light for me.

  16. Excellent post, Brian!! Thought-provoking and SO timely for me! Thank you.

  17. Hey Brian,
    Great post that rings oh so true.
    Amateur? Professional? I think just as you say, the word Photographer is enough. Does anyone really know what professional means these days? Some say it’s when you get paid and some say it’s the quality of the work that defines a professional which we all know isn’t true. We all know some ‘amateurs’ or rather simply ‘non working enthusiasts’ who create kick butt images and don’t or never intend to do it for a living.

    Actually yeah come to think of it, let’s try to get the word ‘working’ replace ‘professional’ :)

    Great thought provoking post and as always filled with wonderful images!
    Way to go,
    Glyn

  18. Great post, Brian. So much rings true to me. I don’t aspire to make a living from photography…I just enjoy making images. So I really shouldn’t worry too much what other people think.

    BTW, Suite 7 rocks! :-)

    –John

  19. Thank you for these inspirational words Brian. I love the part where you encouraged that true growth in photography (or anything really) comes through confidence in yourself and “confidence in your ability to dust yourself off when you do fail because you will.” How true it is. I also loved the part about not sharing for the +1’s or likes. This is so important for us to understand because of the very nature of social media. I’ve noticed that sometimes, in fact many times, the most beautiful and breathtaking photos shared out there in the internet universe are missed by most. Thanks for the beautiful images in this post – they are wonderful.

  20. Great post Brian! Enjoy the holidays!!

  21. Thank you Brian for such an honest post. You nailed it 110%, plus re-affirmed my own beliefs when I was just beginning to doubt them all over again.

  22. Brain, you are fantastic. I have enjoyed learning how to be a better Photographer from you over the past few years. After getting to know you on line via webinars, I walked up to you at the 2011 Photoshop World extended my hand and said, “Hi Brian, I am Ron Paulk.” You smiled the biggest smile and said, “Wow it is great to meet you face to face.” You made my day. Thank You.

  23. Great post, Brian…and nice photos! So true about the comments and +1’s…today, we all get so wrapped up into that (me included), and it shouldn’t matter…thanks for the reminder on that! Suite 7 really rocks, by the way!! Cheers!!

  24. Brian ,alas it’s the ‘not an expert’ interpretation of ‘amateur’ that first comes to mind when I hear the phrase “amateur photographer” hence why I’ve tended to use hobbyist photographer in talking about myself – it’s something I’ve always undertaken for pleasure when I can, in a quest to improve my own knowledge & capabilities.

    It’s true to say that we are all photographers and continuing along the lines of what Glyn mentioned re: the ‘professional’ tagline, I’ve seen images from many self-proclaimed ‘professional’ photographers that are just absolutely dire in all basic elements such as composition, lighting, focusing. Such images are stuff that I would ashamed to charge a customer for, yet (somehow) those photographer seem to continue to get work from customers. Glyn’s ‘working photographer’ moniker seems better as people can then decide for themselves as to whether than photographer is professional or not based on the degree of skill or competence demonstrated in their work.

    Thanks for a great post and thanks too for sharing other insights on your regular blog posts. I don’t often comment on them but I do appreciate the anecdotes & thought processes you share, as well as of course all the PhotoSuite guidance too!
    It was cool to meet you in person at PSW in DC earlier this year and it would be even better if you could get over to UK shores in the near future. I’m sure Bob C, being the gentleman he
    is, will let you share the demo stage with him ;-)

  25. So well said Brian! Thank you for sharing your wonderful photos but even more thanks for sharing your thoughts and giving me a great reminder of why I started this journey.

  26. I just wanted to say ‘Thank you!!’ to all of you for your kind words of encouragement. I hope this post helps boost confidence in yourselves and reaffirm that this is a lifelong journey. Cheers!

  27. Very nice Brian!!

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