The Conversation

The Conversation

I have been avoiding having a conversation with myself about photography and my place in it. This is going to be a rather long post with a mix of rants and a release of things I need to say.

As a photographer I want to share and learn from others. Although creating a photo is a singular experience that cannot be shared with others, this is where my struggle starts.

Throughout my creative life I have been toting around a guitar, a camera and a journal, neither tool being more important than the other. This is how I like to work. Photography has been the most financially rewarding but it has been equal to music and writing in my artistic endeavors.

For a long time I have thought of myself as a working artist not limited to a single title or tool (which I still do).

I have been drawn to the conversation between musicians and writers. In my experience musicians and writers have a collective-collaborating-brothers-in-arms attitude. In photography that community familiarity has been missing for me.

Two musicians can sit across a room and create a single piece of music. Two writers can share in dialogues creating a single narrative; two painters can create a single mural. In photography we cannot share in creating an exposure. This creates a limitation to the tool and a gift to the process: one photographer, one exposure, and one singular creation.

In photography the best we can do is share ideas, tips and help to critique, which we do…sometimes. There is plenty of information being shared on the Internet. The web 2.0 open-source culture has created a mountain of re-worked, re-hashed and re-mixed ideas. Tweets, Facebook updates and how-to-articles (of which I have contributed plenty) have over four hundred million results when entering a Google search for the term “photographer”.

But there is no conversation; it is reactive, lacking the collective – collaborating process.

All too often in my last couple of years of teaching (Photo 101) people keep asking me for a map: a how-to-list on how to create a photo. There is no map...only understanding your tools, light and your own personal journey behind the camera.

This is where I have fallen short as a teacher: properly explaining the “what” and the “when” of becoming a photographer.

The understanding of how to use your camera in Manual, or how creating a photograph with the proper exposure does not make you a photographer any more than knowing how to use a hammer and saw does not make you a carpenter.

But photography is not a collective-collaborating experience. So when is it ok to consider yourself a photographer, and not just a person who owns a camera? There is no one correct answer to that question but there are some strong guidelines that I would recommend.

You might be considered a photographer…
~When you find that you are taking 10,000 or more photos a year.
~When you can create the image that you want to see, not the image your camera gives to you.
~ When you can problem solve in any light condition, effortlessly
~ When you no longer feel “If I only had that piece of equipment my photos would be better.”

When to go pro?
~ When you understand photography is not a profession, it’s a craft. Profession entails a great deal more.
~ When you can be honest with yourself and ethical to your clientele about your skill and experience level.
~When you are no longer surprised when you take a good, it is expected.
~When you are 100% accountable and know that you can deliver great photos, daily.
~When your surrounding professional photography community accepts you as a peer, not a hack.

I understand everything I just said is completely subjective and every point can be refuted. But that is the point; if you find that you need to define or explain why you’re a photographer, than you’re not.

No amount of equipment, technology, or Google research can make you a photographer. The only way to become a good photographer is by daily practice with purpose and effort, that and only that will develop you into a photographer.

I believe deeply in the power of creativity but this is where I have also fallen short in my teaching.

I have taught people how to use their camera (minimally at that, remember it’s just photo 101) and some have taken that to mean that they can now consider them selves pro. I do not wish to cut off anybody’s dream of becoming a photographer but I do want to plead to you to make the jump slowly, with caution and respect.

I do urge you to take photos, create something new daily because you love the process of creating and because you love the feel of the camera in your hands. Because you cannot imagine yourself not taking photos because you feel regret when you leave the house without your camera in hand, when your dreams and nightmares are about photography.

Photography is a limitless lifetime journey, enjoy the process, take great photos and share them.

With the fear of sounding like a grumpy old photographer myself, have this conversation with yourself.

Be ethical to the craft of photography. A photo is not a collective-collaborating process, know thy self….