What Is A Photographer?

This is my most recent addition to my 'Falsely Accused' series - Self Portrait, Eastern State Penitentiary
Self Portrait, Eastern State Penitentiary, from my Falsely Accused series.

I am a photographer.

It’s a statement that seems so simple, but yet so complex at the same time.   In the same breath, the person who makes such a claim is stating not only what they do, but who they are.  Like many hobbies (or careers, as the case may be), Photography is a lifestyle choice.  A photographer makes efforts to look at things differently, capture the world differently and present unique perspectives.  There is a certain level of that skill-set, once achieved, that can never be turned off.  That person doesn’t have to make money at their craft.  They don’t need to be published or held to a higher esteem among others who also call themselves photographers.  It’s a lifestyle choice and one that will ultimately set them apart from those who are not photographers.

Who Isn’t A Photographer?

Just because you have a camera and you like to take pictures, that doesn’t mean you should call yourself a photographer.  By that accord, the grandmother of my children (and all their nieces and nephews) would be a photographer.  But she doesn’t study the craft, doesn’t read about it and has no interest in practicing to become a better photographer.  To be fair, she doesn’t caller herself a photographer; she just fits well into this discussion.  To her, the camera is just a tool that is used to document family history, nothing more.  Her snapshots serve an important purpose because even the poorest of images will spark a memory.  Then you’ll find yourself discussing that one time when your brother did that thing…and it was oh so funny…but I digress.

As would be the case in any craft, there are going to be a lot of undeserving people who might claim the title.  You know the type:  Maybe they have really high end camera equipment that they can afford, but can’t use well.   Maybe they’re that guy who shoots only film (or a Polaroid) because that’s what real photographers do.  Yet their work just doesn’t seem to measure up.  Those people may be looking for attention.  Or perhaps they want to be part of the community despite lacking true passion for the art.  There will always be those guys.  But chances are, they won’t hurt you.

My point is that if you aren’t going to dig yourself into the community or if you stop trying to learn, than you probably shouldn’t call yourself a photographer.  If you observe something and you don’t immediately imagine a couple ways you might capture it through the lens, then you might not be a photographer.  Now I’m not really going to challenge any specific person on their self-proclaimed title.  They are really the ones that are doing themselves a disservice by claiming to be something they are not; they are really the ones missing out on this wonderful community.  But so help me if someone tacks the word “Professional” in front of that, I’m going to be one of the many who are going to call you on it if you are charging people money for an inferior product.  It’s dishonest and wrong.

Are You A Photographer?

Generally speaking, I find that most who are serious about photography are afraid to give themselves a title.  Anyone who is serious about their art – regardless of the medium – tend to be very humble.  We are our own worst critics.  The most humble are afraid to use it until long after they deserved to do so.  Some lock it into money:  They avoid the title until they make an income from it.  Some use publication as a benchmark.  So it’s rare that I happen upon someone who uses the title prematurely.

Whether you admit it, many of you have a pretty good inkling that you might be a photographer.  But just in case, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do you own a dedicated camera?
  • Have you ever experimented with a technique just to see the result?
  • Do you own at least one photography reference book?
  • Are you able to admit to yourself that a photo you took isn’t very good?
  • Do you regularly read photography magazines or websites?
  • Does your Amazon Wish List have photography gear in it?
  • Do you own a tripod?

If you answered yes to any of those, then you might be a photographer.