It has been a hectic few months between work and life in general and I realised it has been a while since I posted a blog entry. I was away and unplugged for a short while and a few photography things have been stewing in my mind whilst my head was no longer filled with mundane things like work and making money.

Chief among the topics under furious debate, with myself, was at what point does one call themselves a photographer?

A simple question you may think, but in truth, it is laden with minefields when approached objectively. Starting with a simple internet dictionary definition, we are told that a photographer is “a person who takes photographs, especially one who practices photography professionally”. This in itself is a loaded definition, just waiting to spark explosive debate.

What the dictionary obviously has not taken into account is the current trend of cell phone photography, which by the above definition makes every cell phone user who has snapped a selfie (or worse) is essentially a photographer. Although I do concede that in the hands of a competent user, cell phone photos can be quite good; In general, I personally have to ring-fence true photographers into a global set of those that actually own a camera that does not make telephone calls.

On the other end of the scale, the definition is quite clear that a person making a living from the art of taking photographs is clearly a person who can confidently call themselves a photographer. The dilemma then is, where do the rest of us fit in?

Although I exist in the set of human beings that own a camera I unfortunately do not intersect with the set of those that are making a living with said camera. Can I then actually call myself a photographer, or am I destined to remain an IT manager who takes photographs as a hobby?

At what point can I call myself a photographer and what is the measurement? Surely the level of skill is an acceptable measure, but that is subjective and the other option that came to mind (based on the number of photos taken) would just be silly.

Should there be an official certification or perhaps once published in the media, would one get the thumbs up to place “Photographer” on their business card? I am not so sure. If I decide that that I wish simply to take beautiful images for my own pleasure, no matter my qualification or success; does that make me any less of a photographer?

Perhaps membership to a club or some sort of organisation would help? Certainly it is a step in the right direction, as objective scrutiny by our peers is used in many other areas as a measure of control and standardisation, but since when is art all about standardisation and control?

See, I told you it was a tricky question.

For me, personally, right now, I am uncomfortable with giving myself the title “Photographer” without at least quantifying it with the inclusion of the prefix “Amateur” or “Novice”.  I feel I still have too much to learn and although I am pretty sure that I will be an IT manager for some time yet, as a career, photography will remain little more than a side-line possibility for the foreseeable future.

However;

Whether or not I ever take the plunge and go pro, or get that coveted published shot or simply wow people with my images, I look forward to the day when I can honestly say to inquiring people that I am a photographer …… and by the way, a pretty damn good IT manager too!

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Comment by Kevin Richards on April 9, 2014 at 7:51

Thanks all for the comments. I just love the different views but the common thread here is obvious. Just love what you do!

Comment by melanie janse on April 8, 2014 at 19:33
You know my thoughts already I'm happy just to do what I love, bugger the titles and what others think :):) let them keep on debating about titles while I enjoy my passion in peace. And btw... I am a professional mom with no experience, formal training or a user guide ;)I just got the equipment with no on or off switch and had to make it work.
Comment by Cobus Eksteen on April 8, 2014 at 18:39

My humble opinion is that there are many amature photographers who deliver top quality images, and do not have to stand in the shade of any "professional" photographer.

I come from a background of camera club photography, and can only vote from that angle.  I am a member of a club in Krugersdorp since 1982 and am one of the senior workers, and very proud about it.

The beauty of belonging to a camera club is that your work gets judged on a regular bases with positive remarks, but very important, also comments that will help you to improve your work by learning from your own mistakes, but also from the mistakes of your fellow club members.

In order to try and determine where you stand with your quality of images you are producing, I believe it is very important to send your images to "salons", where they are judged on a national, or international basis.  If you can deliver good images that are accepted on a regular basis on salons, you know you are getting there.

I believe it is very important to not always get "oohs" and " aahs" as comments on your work, but also constructive criticism in order to learn the tricks of the trade.

In the end, if you consider yourself an amature whose work is of a constant good quality, I believe you might start calling yourself a photographer if you want to, but the main thing is to enjoy your photography without the longing to have a "title" as such.

Comment by Trompie Van der Berg on April 8, 2014 at 16:58

Interesting read Kevin, thanks very much! In my opinion if you take a photograph with a Blackberry or a Nikon D4, you are a photographer. I have seen some amazing images in Instagram, images that you would think was shot by a professional on a professional camera and hours spent on Photoshop, only for it to be taken by a highschool kid on her S4 and Snapseed'ed. The fact that she does not have a clue about exposure and chromatic aberration and all the rest, does that lessen the impact of the image? It made me stop dead in my tracks and gawk, and I consider myself a professional photographer! If we try and reserve a title for us photographers that you are only worthy of being called one if you have the kit and the knowledge, surely it should apply to all facets in life. Can you then call yourself a driver when compared to Michael Schumacher? I am of the opinion that we as photographers get too romantic about this profession, . The difference is between a photographer, and someone that is a PROFESSIONAL photographer. And for me being a professional photographer is simply, are you getting paid for what you deliver. It does not matter if you are being paid R200 for a family shoot or R5000. Now I know there are some that will say that there are people out there in the wedding industry that is calling themselves professionals, asking money but not delivering good images. Well, that is the case with any industry. You get backyard mechanics, and you get Lexus mechanics. Both are legitimate businesses and professionals in their own right, they just cater for different client bases and differ substantially in price and quality. I think I went off point, this is my opinion on the matter though...:-).

Comment by Danie Bester on April 8, 2014 at 16:19

I think, if you're anything serious about photography and you do understand the basic scientific and creative aspects you can certainly call yourself a photographer! Would love to hear what the other guys and gals think?

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