Consider yourself a photographer? Consider this…

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Last night, I attended the San Francisco Art Commission panel: Are We All Photographers Now? Flickr/JPG Magazine Breakthrough Exhibition with Allison and Sarah, fellow Blurberati.

The panelists represented different areas of the photography world: social photo sharers, fine artists, and photojournalists. While they all had different perspectives on the modern culture of photography, they seemed to agree that everyone can be considered a photographer, but becoming a professional requires practice, desire, and some sort of differentiation from the masses.

If that sounds ambiguous, that’s because it is. That was the point the speakers made: Photography itself has become ambiguous as the lines between amateurs and professionals have blurred. Many other topics were discussed:

  • The history of photography and how digital technology has made photography more affordable and accessible.

Derek Powazek, founder of JPG magazine, told a story of the old days when each sound of the shutter cost him 25 cents, and how the digital format enabled him to become a better photographer, do new things with photography, and get more immediate feedback on his shots.

  • The community around photography: sharing, privacy, online etiquette, and copyright.

Heather Champ, Community Manager at Flickr, talked about the power of sharing, taking responsibility for the images we post online, and how anyone can curate their own virtual exhibits by following links through Flickr Groups or Favorites.

  • One must learn technique and style to create truly engaging images.

J.D. Beltran, artist and professor, said everyone is capable of becoming a fine art photographer through practice and learning what makes a photograph successful. Engaging people through photographs can be studied and mastered; this is the path to being a fine art photographer.

  • Photography in the newsroom means having a good editor, a good eye for spot news photography, and a journalist’s code of ethics.

Deanne Fitzmaurice, Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist, highlighted the process of filing her shots and how having a good editor has made her a better photographer. In addition, she said that photojournalists abide by a strict code of ethics, such as not setting up news shots, and never “photoshopping” an image. (It’s unacceptable in photojournalism.)

Overall, it was a little interesting, a little boring, and a little thought provoking. We wanted to be very apropos and have a photo taken of us at the event that we’d then post here. The woman sitting in front of us refused to snap our photo, but we’re not bitter or anything.

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  1. I teach digital photography at the high school level. One question I asked recently was, “In a world awash in imagery, why do we need more?”
    One student answered, and I’m paraphrasing here, that since most images are used toward some end, and that end is hardly ennobling (think advertising, of course) that it is ever more important to create imagery of truth and beauty, in order to ennoble the viewer.
    While I personally may fall short of such a moral imperative, I do agree that the more images that are out there, the more good, honest, moving images are needed – whether they ennoble, or amuse, provoke or intrigue.
    I’d also add that getting people to stop and consider a non-moving photo, to focus on a single thing, an imaginary point in time, is probably not a bad thing either . . .

    By Norman Maynard
      June 3, 2007 – 10:06 am   Permalink
  2. I was looking at my recent Blurb Email and came across your blog. I agree that the lines between pro and amateur have become blurred, even Master Ansel himself said ” it’s not about photography, it’s about the picture”. And as often as I have quoted Ansel and agree with his comment their is and always will be a discerning difference between the two. Anyone can pick up a camera and passionately inculcate themselves into a fine and rewarding hobby. They can learn the craft, the techniques, the tricks and the mechanics. It has often been said that the difference between Pro and Amateur was that a pro gets paid to shoot and an amateur doesn’t. Even though their may be a modicum of truth to that statement it is somewhat oversimplified. I turned pro only 5 years ago, I use the “getting paid” comment to qualify my claim. However, my knowledge of photography is auto didactic for about 80% and schooled for the remaining 20%. As much as I know about the craft their are many who know more…way more. Their are men and women who can quote chapter and verse every F stop and it’s reciprocal from memory, know every aspect of lens build, quality and nomenclature, can come to within a third stop of setting just by the feel and look of the ambient light in a room, can wax philosophic for hours on end between the differences between a CCD and a CMOS sensor, can even guess very accurate the manual setting of a their speed flash by judging the distance between them and their subject and… hold advanced degrees from institutions of higher learning in all aspects of photography. Are they professionals? One might say “of course they are”. Then…there are the ones who have never used a gray card, don’t know the difference between color temperature and oven temperature, don’t know kelvin from Fahrenheit and think the M setting stands for “maybe” it will turn out and “maybe” it won’t… but… every now and then ( like us pros) capture an image that is “to die for”.
    As for me…I have only come to use the term “professional” regarding my own work, only after having the term bestowed on me from my clients. Some of the accolades have come from my images but much of the accolades came from my commitment, integrity, honesty, ability to deliver what I promised and a genuine respect and appreciation for their trusting in me to give them what they want regarding their own needs for photographic imagery.

    Over the past 30 years, in many countries, on three continents I have met many men and women whom, when asked what they do, say ” I am a photographer! …I don’t remember anyone qualifying the term with the word “professional” or “amateur” and if they did, I may have dismissed it because it’s not that important …when they are in love with their camera…they are all “photographers” it’s something that rest deep inside their souls and presents itself with an odd looking tool that one holds to the eye and presses a button , tis the drive and passion to capture that moment in time, and to offer to the world a small image of beauty, of emotion, of sadness or reflection, of happiness or fond endearment. To have an innate desire to move another human being to ponder, to reflect, to cry..or to smile.

    So…professional or amateur…the goals of both are identical. The quest of both are the same. The only difference seems to be “when it comes to photography, how much do you know?” Well I submit, that knowledge past putting the camera to eye and pressing the shutter only serves to increase the speed of turning out an image. Irrespective of that…its what you are looking at in the frame that makes the difference. As Ansel said….”the most important part of photography is…the twelve inches behind the camera.” Past that…being a “professional” has way more to do with customer service….not photography.

    Ben Michalski

      June 3, 2007 – 5:14 pm   Permalink
  3. Norman and Ben,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I’ve been a photographer for ten years, and still consider myself a student. Having access to a better camera, and the opportunity to share my photos on Flickr has inspired me to improve. I also feel encouraged when people react to moments that I’ve captured. I love to observe people’s different reactions to my photos. Even some photographs that aren’t my favorites become my most popular with friends and family. I think what’s great about today’s culture of photography is the openness in the community. I agree that it isn’t so much that I’m an amateur or a professional, it’s just that I have the passion and shared interest with so many other people – that in itself makes me feel connected to a community.

    By kim
      June 5, 2007 – 11:09 am   Permalink
  4. As someone who has made a living as a photographer for nearly 30 years I would say the primary difference between an amateur and professional is the ability to craft an image to the client’s specifications. This ability requires a certain mastery of the craft that goes beyond what is required to produce images that
    express a personal point of view.
    I believe the best professional photographers offer the passion of an amateur with the seasoned ability to to produce an image that also meets their client’s needs.
    While some of the most meaningful images are created by the amateur, it’s the professional that knows how to produce on demand, on time and within a budget. Neither is “better” but certainly are “different”.

      June 18, 2007 – 2:09 pm   Permalink
  5. Well Mark – I agree and don’t agree.. while I can certainly appreciate the professional who knows how to “get the job done”, I wouldn’t say this is a qualifying differential between the amateur and pro. I also recently turned “pro” – also using the “I get paid for what I do” approach to the term. While I am in ways a newbie to the camera – I lack the technical aspects of many parts of photography, specifcally how to use flash effectively.

    I think there should be less of a discussion about amateur vs pro and more about “good” vs “bad” art. I’ve taken some amazing photos in the past year and have made some real decent money. However, I’ve also taken some bad ones too and missed some opportunities because of bad technique and perhaps not the best equipment. Do Pros always get the best shots? I would say no – take a look at so called amateurs on Producing on demand, on time and with a budget is just good business practice – whether you are an amateur, pro or somewhere in between. I’m able to get my prints back to my clients on time, for a great price and have taken great portraits so far.. am I a Pro… ? Not sure it makes any difference except in your marketing to the customers…. interesting dicussion!

    By Shane
      June 18, 2007 – 2:28 pm   Permalink
  6. Shane,

    Being consistent IS what sets the professional apart of an anateur (no matter how talented).

    With the advent of digital and the improvements in Photoshop, ALMOST anyone can take or “produce” a good to great photo. What sets a good, notice I said good, pro apart from all others is his style and ability to do it over and over.

    I am working toward getting good again. Right now, I would say that I am an average pro. When I was shooting film, I was good and you could always distinguish my work from any others in the area I worked. It was my style and ability to get “the shot.”

    Since I am also a programmer, I have taken to Photoshop easily. So, when i get shots that are average, I can still make them pop using my computer lab for “extra” processing.

    And, alomg those lines, I attend every seminar and class that I can to improve my epertise in both shooting and computer processsing of the images.

    In the end, it is up to the pro to distinguish themselves from the amatuers. And if they don’t, their business will show it.

      June 19, 2007 – 2:38 pm   Permalink

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