What makes a photographer? / by Christian Webb


Everyone has a camera these days yeah?  Whether it's a high end, low end, mid range DSLR, a digital compact camera or a camera on a mobile device.  Everyone and anyone can pretty much shoot photos, upload and tell their stories,  whatever they may be.   So, are all of these people actually..."photographers?"  Well, yeah, sort of.  And not exactly.  What exactly is a photographer?  Well, here's what came to my head when thinking on this:

"Everyone thinks they're a photographer,  until they actually try and become a photographer."

Yeah, that's how it came to me and I think it makes sense.  Let me explain.   Taking photographs, of any sort is a mechanical process. "Click!" "Snap!"  Boom.  An image is captured.  (yes, I'm over simplifying the process here but I'm just keeping it basic.)   Add the artistic element to whatever subject chosen and it becomes...well,  art.  Subjective of corse but,  who's to say what is and isn't art.  Each photograph is that one person's capture of life.    So many mistake the ability to take a picture with actually being a photographer.   Add to that,  the fact that just about everyone has a camera,  and you have tons of people calling themselves photographers.    I drive a car.  I drive fast sometimes but I'd never say "I'm a race car driver" would I?  I like to cook and I cook very well (just ask my wife!)  but I don't say "I'm a chef."   Perhaps it's all just nit picking and a matter of semantics but there is a reason why I bring this up.  A lot of aspiring photographers make the mistake of thinking that having the camera, maybe a light or two (if that) and having some sort of desire and vision to be a photographer is essentially all that's needed to actually be a photographer.   Maybe they have an idea and maybe they have some artistic sense of what they want to do.  More than likely,  they even have some rudimentary sense of photography and actually CAN shoot in manual mode and understand many of the basics when it comes to shooting.  BUT, still,  a photographer this does not make.   (did that sound Yoda like?)   To truly head down that path of becoming an actual photographer first requires that desire to study/learn everything one can about the craft and dedicate to a constant learning process.   Even beyond this, and most important,  is experience.  A person can shoot a hundred selfies or shoot a few friends here and there and still, their experience can be lacking.   A person can read, study online and take courses and still not be a photographer.    Most of my learning and my best moments have been my worst moments.  Being on a set,  on location,  in studio...wherever and having those "uh oh" moments.   Forgot my pocket wizards.  Forgot my memory cards.   Left a power cord.   Forgot my spare batteries.  Left a particular light modifier home.  Something breaks.  A random camera setting is throwing me off.  My time is cut short by the client.  The weather acts up.  There are tons of potential issues and problems and how someone deals with those problems and manages the issues is what makes them a photographer.  At least, in the professional sense.   Some may call it all paying dues.  Putting in the work.  All of those experiences and those mistakes will serve to make you a better photographer.   Knowing how to deal with those mistakes and what to do in any given situation is what separates a photographer from a person who likes to take pictures.   Is there a bit of snobbery here?  Maybe.  I think many photographers are sometimes annoyed with the idea that there are people out there who get themselves a camera,  make a business card,  put up a half ass website and then run around calling themselves "photographers."  They sort of undermine the actual craft and the real work that goes into what real photographers do.   It's not easy.  Not if you're doing it right.     I think my point with this post is more about reaching out to those people who actually WANT TO BE photographers and taken serious.   I want to share what I know and have learned.   I can't emphasize enough,  it's not the camera.  It's not a business card.  It's not having a website.  It's not photographing people every now and then.   It's constantly working on a project.  Constantly shooting.  Constantly learning/studying and more important,  putting things into practice.  It's MAKING MISTAKES and learning from them.  It's about investing in and mastering your equipment.  It's mastering your craft by any means necessary and staying committed.   All of these things combined with vision, time, patience and passion will serve to make you a photographer.  Or, at least someone worthy of being considered a serious photographer.