Chill out, it’s only a photo

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This week involves a lot of train travel and, as the reason for the travel isn’t very nice, I have treated myself to some photography magazines. I only read these intermittently. I often find ideas are repeated and sometimes advice is quite frankly wrong (more on that in a later post). But sometimes there’s something new, a nugget of helpful advice, or a source of creative inspiration, and it is good to put the brain on hold every now and then and just soak in the visual goodness that you get from lovely, large images in a glossy magazine. However, I was a little taken aback by a vein running through all three magazines, namely the tendency to rant along the following line: “why I am a proper photographer and you are not”.
In one magazine, in particular, the bete noir was people who buy expensive pro-level cameras, open a Facebook page and then call themselves photographers.

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This same article included the frankly nonsensical and now rather overworked expression: ‘If you have to use Photoshop to make your photos look better, then you should think about whether you’re worthy of the title photographer’. This is actually a bit like saying, in pre-digital days, if you have to dodge and burn in the darkroom to make your photos look better, then you are not a proper photographer. Does this make sense to you?

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But all these moaning minnies (or michaels, in fact) got me thinking about what is a photographer? Is it someone who makes their living from taking photos or anyone who has ever taken a photo? Or something in between? And does it matter if an amateur has a Facebook page called Joe Bloggs Photography on which he shares his images, enjoying his hobby and perhaps giving pleasure to some viewers? Are viewers, as one writer suggested, no longer capable of discerning the good from the bad because we are saturated in images or are we perhaps not quite the Philistines he suggests?

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I have some sympathy for pro-photographers who find their income eroded by amateurs who are willing to license their images for low fees or even just a credit. But none of the columnists mentioned that. In the end, when I had stopped imagining epistolary remonstrances to the editors, I decided that I had just two words to say to these writers: chill out! Photography is fun, and I think it’s good that more people now enjoy taking and sharing photos. You don’t have to look at their Facebook pages if you don’t want to. But if you do, you might just find that one or two of them have taken some pretty good pictures. And, if they haven’t, the virtual exit is only one mouse click away.

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What does the word “photographer” mean to you?

9 thoughts on “Chill out, it’s only a photo

  1. A very well written piece Rachael, with some great edited photos too. I so love that dragonfly one, all eyes 🙂

    I totally agree with you, photography is fun and so it should be. I do find that the automatic response to any threat is generally to “lash out”, so your advice of chill out is wonderful. I think they need to remember that you can’t be everywhere to shoot everything. There are plenty of pictures for all of us to take!

    • Thanks, Karen. You may have read the article as it is in a magazine to which I think you subscribe? I thought it was an odd thing for them to print as I would have thought their main target audience was the amateur photographer… I really like your comment that there are plenty of pictures for all of us to take. 🙂

  2. It is indeed, I too thought it a little odd!. I have a free subscription at the moment, so yes do read it for those “nuggets” of inspiration that I feel I need at the moment 😮

  3. I know a couple of pro photographers, and I’ve found they have a rather jealous and protective attitude to their hard-won niches. I actually asked one for advice about studying photography and she said I should stick to writing; the other does political candidates in the U.S. — I asked him about upgrading my travel camera (he’s also a hiker) and he said, “Just get a cheap point & shoot. Don’t waste your energy on photography. Focus on your writing.”

    I disregarded their suggestions and try to play with both.

    I am known as a bit of a photo snob because I do find it odd that with everyone in the developed world having one or more cheap devices at their disposal, the quality of amateur pictures that I’ve seen on Facebook etc is depressingly low! There does seem to be a “just grab an image” attitude at work, but perhaps that’s all they want to prove they’ve had some kind of experience. But there is obviously a huge — and possibly growing? — sector of people who love photography as a hobby or even a passion. The “enthusiast” sector, as they call them. I’ve spent a lot of time reading the fora for my camera model, and those people are very passionate and opinionated, love taking and looking at pictures and spend a lot of time trying to get better. Most seem happy to remain amateurs, but want to be as good as they can be.

    I don’t think enthusiasts are the threat the pros fear them to be. I don’t have a problem with thinking of myself as a photographer, just as I regard myself as a reader, walker, adventurer, traveller, collector and, in very good years, a lover!

    • It was a strange article to read in a magazine aimed at enthusiasts rather than professionals, I thought. I belong to a camera club in which there are several very good enthusiasts who remain firmly amateur, challenging themselves by entering for juried exhibitions and amateur competitions for which there is no prize but the kudos. I very briefly dabbled in commercial photography a couple of years ago but found it was sucking the pleasure out of photography. I am now firmly amateur and happy to be so.
      By the way, what camera do you hike with? I managed to injure my back quite badly this year and can not carry my canon 5Dii for the time being. I need a good camera that shoots RAW and is light!

      • Thanks, I enjoyed it too!

        My camera is a Sony NEX-5N interchangeable lens. It’s brilliant, light and small, great image quality. With three lenses, extra batteries etc it’s still packable.

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