In Pep Talks, Rants and Sermons, Vision Is Better by David133 Comments


At least a couple times a week I get a great email from someone with something nice to say, some piece of advice they’re seeking, or just a general “hey how are ya?” and that email will say something like “I’m just an amateur photographer, but…”


That word elicits some pretty mixed responses in me. It makes me angry at an industry that’s erected such stupid and unnecessary walls. It makes me sad for what these walls have done to so many people, because somewhere along the line people have come to believe that there is a hierarchy. And there most certainly is not.

So this is a short post. I get verbose at times and I’m going to really reign it in this time. Because nothing I can say will stop the egos and divas out there from thinking that their professional status makes them something. That won’t change. Give a guy a publishing credit or a paycheck and suddenly he’s Ansel-freaking-Adams. Except I’d be willing to bet Ansel was a good bloke who wouldn’t tolerate this crap anyways.

All I really want to say is this; let’s drop the “just.” You are not merely an amateur photographer any more than I am merely a professional. What you are, what I am, is a photographer who loves and wrestles with his craft. We have good days and bad days. Sometimes we do exceptional work for free and sometimes we do crap work and we get paid well for it. So what? We are, I hope, all growing, changing, evolving. We are learning what it means to express ourselves through the lens, to speak the visual language. Does age matter? Not a chance. Joey L was 18 when I first heard of him and he’s freaking amazing. Does getting paid matter? Not in the slightest. I’ve seen crap from all kinds of professionals and been responsible for creating some of it myself, all while getting paid.

So what matters?

It sure as heck isn’t whether you have a brand new Leica or an old Canon AE-1. It’s not whether you have books to your credit. It’s not how many people know your name.

It’s this: that you love it.

That you’re learning to see the world in a way that’s unique to you, and you’re taking the time, with what talent you’ve been given, and what hard-earned skills you possess, to show the world that vision in clearer and clearer ways.

Just an amateur? Amateur comes from the same word from which we get words like Amorous; it means to love. You merely do photography for the love of it? I can’t think of anything more noble to say of your motives for doing this. It should be the pros out there who long ago lost their love for the craft – and there are as many who never have – that should write with such apologetic tones.

Stop comparing.

Stop worrying about the labels.

Pro. Amateur. Whatever. If you love this craft and you’re a passionate student of it, then you are a photographer. No less. If we must qualify the label, let’s find something more meaningful to which to aspire. I read recently that a great many photographers are struggling and frustrated. If that’s so let’s make it because the craft is hard. Expressing ourselves is hard. Let’s not make it harder for ourselves with unnecessary labels and comparisons. Do it for the love of it. That’s enough. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


  1. Pingback: What makes someone a “photographer?” « The humanitarian and cultural photography of Atlanta-based assignment photographer Joe Murray

    1. Do it for the LOVE of it. Do it for the LIFE of it. Do it for the HEART of it. Do it for the JOY of it. This is all we’re here for. And yet how easily we get lost in the cacophony of voices telling us otherwise. Thank you for this beautiful reminder. I’ll go out again today with my no name camera (and every day) and remember who I am and why I’m here. Not to take photographs specifically but simply to SEE what there is to see . <3

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  6. Well put! I agree! There is a photographer in my hometown who went to school for it, has been doing it for 10+ years but has no vision, no passion. He ridicules all of the new talent and “lifestyle” photographers. How sad that he feels that just because he has been doing it for so long that he can rob someone of their dream. Plus a “professional” that ridicules others is not a professional. Then there are people like me who have been doing it for a year but I’m filled with passion and do have vision. I create specific shoots to meet the want of each client. I work in a professional manner, have specific contracts and policies, constantly reading up and researching new ideas and techniques, show up dressed professsionally (just because you own a D3 doesn’t mean you should show up at your shoot with the word “Juicy” on your butt). Have I been doing this for 10 years? No. Do I consider myself a photographer? Yes. Do I consider myself a professional photographer? Yes. Do I think that everyone that calls themself a “professional” is? No.

  7. This is a blog post that I will read over and over again. Thank you so much for writing it. I’ve linked so so many people to it, and I will continue to do so.

  8. I love you! This was the most awesome blog I’ve read in a LONG time!

    Thank you!

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  10. Hi David – thanks again for the links earlier today.

    For everyone: I was ridiculed the other day by someone I love dearly, for “daring” to call myself a photographer – presumably because I do not earn a substantial living from it. It was funny though, because this person has commented on several of my landscapes and portraits saying that they “loved them” and that they were “beautiful”.

    To this gorgeous soul, I say, just who in the hell created those images?

    A photographer.

  11. Great post. I am an amateur photographer, and have no problem calling myself that. I am a professional geographer, because that is my degree and is what I’m paid to do. I love geography, and I love photography. I do one to earn a living, and another to enjoy living. Lately, I’ve tried to ‘commercialize’ my hobby, starting a web gallery to sell my images. I’ve had limited success with that, but frankly, I don’t care, and I’m considering dropping the site. I just want to continue improving my skills, and achieve better results, for my own enjoyment. Again, thanks for the post!

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  15. two thoughts …

    the concepts behind “guildsman,” “artisan,” “tradesman,” “craftsman,” “guild,” “craft,” “professional/profession,” and “amateur” have become hopelessly muddled over the past 200 years – and clarity is not likely to return to this area in the foreseeable milennia.

    nomenclature aside, however, one can make photographs as a money-making profession, as a way to memorialize the antics of their family members, or to create art (or all 3) – but it is in the latter sense that I define myself as a photographer.

    of course, technical accomplishment is the sine qua non of competent photography. and while i am continuing to develop my skills, i do not believe one can create an artistic photograph without coupling technical ability to vision … artistic vision.

    so when asked whether i am a photographer, I say yes. when asked whether i am a professional photographer, i say that i am an artist. if asked whether i get paid for it, i respond that while i may sometimes accept money for my art, i do not do it for the money.

    this then allows me to turn the conversation away from the commercial aspects of photography and toward the artistic aspects of what i/we do and what we love about photography.

    and that, for me, is a core truth – that i am trying to make a photograph that is “artistic” and not strictly “commercial” – not that the latter is a bad thing, just that it is not my thing. it is not that to which i aspire.

    i have had numerous true professions in my life, and have been successful at all of them … and still didn’t get rich. that’s okay with me, it was never my motivation. and btw, being a “professional” is not all it is knocked up to be.

    i would much rather be/am happier being, an artist who tries to capture some small measure of the beauty that really does exist in this world. my motivation in this is that my professions have usually revolved around the unpleasant things in life.

    but, point 2 … while some might feel the epithet “amateur” thrust upon them with a scarlet letter “A,” the term also is used … no embraced … by those who seek to hide behind it and use it to excuse their lack of technical mastery or fulfillment of vision.

    the point being that whatever we call ourselves, let us not apologize for not being adams or steiglitz, et al.

    i have posted a link to a small flicker page. if you go there, you will see plainly that i am not ansel or alfred.

    i am not ashamed of that. they were not me, either.

    but yes, i am still a photographer.

    and receiving no pay at all from it, i can say that like some of the most famous photographers, i, too, am underpaid.


  16. Very good points. Many people say to me- you take really good shots, why don’t you sell them? (ie slave my guts out paying homage to accountant clients, earning $10/ hour)
    My response is: why bother, when I run a property development company????? I just like taking photos for about 5 hours per week, so I’m good at it….I’m also good at a lot of things, doesn’t mean I have to commercialise it. Life is too short to be a commercial slave to what other people want from you.

  17. Terrific perspective. I think that I call myself amateur because I don’t want anyone to think I know what I’m doing. I can’t fathom that someone would ever pay for anything I do, because it’s not good enough. Either that, or it seems that anyone else could do as well. Yet I’ve taken shots that I love and adore that probably are good. So I can love them and ascribe worth to them, but fear that others won’t. So when people tell me I should sell some of my pictures, I consider it, and then don’t really do anything. Lame, huh?

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  22. Thanks for the encouragement, this makes my day! You’re insight in invaluable! Thank you!

  23. Thank you…. I needed that today, cause I think I’m getting worse rather than better!

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  25. This post completely made my day. I feel that I struggle with the “status” of my photography. I almost feel like it has become a competetion with the people I know that are in the business. And the truth is, I don’t see this as a career for me, or my next step in life, but I simply love everything about photography. I love the different styles from different people, its what makes them special. So THANK YOU for this encouragement, I definitely needed it 🙂

  26. Ran across this quotation the other day, which I think speaks well to this whole issue:

    “Once the amateur’s naive approach and humble willingness to learn fades away, the creative spirit of good photography dies with it. Every professional should remain always in his heart an amateur.” – Alfred Eisenstaedt

  27. “Just” got to this post after a little internet-free vacation, so it is a little late…

    Thanks for the shot of confidence for those still loving and learning this craft. Unfortunately, while we can change our own self-image (not calling ourselves ‘just’ amateur), reality probably won’t change. The poster who used the analogy of ‘just’ a stay-at-home mom highlights it perfectly: that IS the most important job in the world. But try telling that to CreditCard or The Bank if something happens and you suddenly need to be the breadwinner… Sad world we live in.

    Thanks again for the validation! Because who knows: a little confidence might even help to change that status from amateur to pro if that is what you really want. And meanwhile I am ‘just’ going to keep enjoying learning and loving this craft!

  28. If I give a name to what my lvl of photography is I say serious hobbiest to other photographers…i now plan to just be brave and proudly state I am a photograpgher.

  29. Dude I think I’m pro, but all the photographers in my city are keeping my photos of their group. It hurt and it feels good, it feels good because I can tell they are trying to limit me because they are scared. I get paid for my shots but get no respect from others. I loved your post because i actually obsess about my photography and I work on getting better for money and for free. I love photos, check out my portfolio, leave a comment. You rock thank you.
    Have you read all 91 comments?
    good readership.

  30. I love your post. I will be sharig this many other, especially my artists friends. It is “just” what I needed to read today.

    I will be following you blog much closer now.

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  33. God-damned right! I will take pictures until the day I am laid to rest…and even then I’ll go with my gear. I don’t really care what people call me or my work. I am happy doing it and my family supports me and that is all that really matters. Thank you David for de-marginalizing we “amateurs.”

  34. Another great post David 🙂 I’m an amateur underwater photographer & proud of that. I think it’s great that people get to make their income from their passion for photography but that is not for me. I like to live the lifestyle to which I’m accustomed and still get to photography what I love and I am very lucky, obviously I’d like more time to practice but isn’t that the same with every hobby? I’m glad that my laborious work deadlines do not diminish my love of photography, in 40 years time I’ll be sick to death of coding but I’ll still take my love of photography into my retirement. Good luck to all the pros & amateurs alike I say 🙂

  35. This may be out of place, may be scary, may be funny…I’m still not sure how I am taking it, but I read a joke on some blog that read, “What’s the difference between a Large Pepperoni pizza and a professional photographer? Answer: A large pizza can feed a family of four!”


  36. Thank you David – I read this article a few days ago and I’m just now leaving a comment because I had to let it sink in and I really took what you said to heart. Thank you for being so down to earth and for giving us photographers inspiration when we need it.

  37. Amen, David my friend.
    Nice post. In photography, music or anything creative, creativity is lost when it becomes a “job”.

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  40. I cry easily when it comes to self-expression. Even though I picked up the camera to express myself, along the way I had forgotten my own desperation because I was afraid. I won’t compare myself with others and just take photos that I love.

    Gosh, I sound like a sap, but that’s how I am.

    Thank you for your words.

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  42. Having recently joined the ranks, imagine my delight in finding both your book “Within the Frame” and now your blog… and best of all the coincidence of reading this post. Thanks!


  43. “Just”, as in ‘limited to’, ‘only’, ‘merely’…is one of the words that we should either never use, or we should over-use it to put it in its’ place. I, rkp, am JUST a father…I am JUST a human…I am JUST a small part of the Universe…David du Chemin is JUST a great photographer and inspiring writer…Vincent Van Gogh was JUST a frustrated painter… Mahatma Gandhi was JUST a political activist….JUST?….
    AS someone surely mentioned earlier (sorry, I don’t read all comments) JUST and AMATEUR in the strictest definitions of both words…JUST, as in fair; balanced; equitable… and AMATEUR, as in one who ‘does’ from love…is quite possibly the greatest compliment or description that one could hope for.

    Heima (no longer, apparently) Lurker

  44. For me the difference from me & a working Pro is at the end of the day of shooting my wife is my editor.

    Hell if only Pro’s bought camera & gear all these companies would probably go out of business.

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  48. Thank you so much for posting this!!!!

    I’m in my 2nd year of photography. I’ve made about $150 so far. I turn 40 next week. I feel invisible and out of place in the photographic community. I’ll never be good at marketing or business, so I’m resigned to the pittance I may receive here and there over the years. Not the best outlook on life, but what can I do That said, I love photography and I enjoy the images I’m making. I hope others enjoy them too. I guess I didn’t realize how good I’ve got it.

    Your insightful and encouraging post is just what I needed. Your vision is infectious, I can’t thank you enough for sharing it. I hope we cross paths someday – first round’s on me!

  49. Hi David – what a wonderful and though provoking post. Every once in awhile, someone will approach me and ask if I’m a professional photographer. I usually say no, just an amateur. Until I read your post, it seemed the only honest answer. After all, I’ve never been paid in currency (but I have been paid in BBQ!) for images. From now on, I think I’ll tell people that I don’t make a living from photography, I do it for the joy of it. If folks feel compelled to label me, they can make their own choices.

    Thanks again for such an insightful post, and thank you for the ongoing inspiration and guidance.

  50. Stop the maddness. It is the internet forums that have built the wall. It allows people belive that an expensive camera and a computer will make them a photographer and because they can hide behind their computer they can say and do anything they want. The biggest things they will not do is actually learn to take a picture and properly understand how to use their equipment and most of all PRACTICE makes perfect.

  51. Amen, amen. Now I have a better idea of how I ought to regard labels like “amateur” and “professional” and see them for what they are: labels that don’t do justice to the ones who loves their craft.

  52. Thank you for letting me know that I AM a photographer! Words well spoken…thank you David — may these words resound — so that others will get behind the lens with passion of a great craft and not feel inferior because they lack a title.

  53. David,

    I’ve always been a lurker, never really saying much on your blog. But this one hits a nerve.

    I think we all needed someone of your caliber to voice this one out. So, thank you.

  54. Thanks for the wonderful post! It has really made me reflect on what I should be focused on and that is just go out there and keep taking pictures and aim to keep getting better!

  55. This applies to everything in life – work, family, hobbies, etc… To say “I’m just a …” establish’s a hierarcy that should not be there. Everyone has there thing and they do it because they love it.

    David, very well said…. sometimes the truth hurts those who think they are better, but in the end we will all be in a box 6′ underground.

  56. Thanks so much for this post, David. It encapsulates so much of my own thinking in a concise and heartfelt manner. It’s always sad to me to see people denigrate their own abilities because they lack confidence in the power of their own vision. If we could somehow get them to overcome their own inner resistance to following their Muse, then I think a lot of this insecurity would disintegrate.

    Thanks again.

  57. Ironically, most of the work we associate Ansel Adams with: his iconic and sublime photographs of the American wilderness, what we remember him for today, were all done in his spare time when he wasn’t struggling to pay the bills with more mundane commercial work. On 2 July 1938 he wrote to friend David McAlpin, “I have to do something in the relatively near future to regain the right track in photography. I am literally swamped with “commercial” work — necessary for practical reasons, but very restraining to my creative work.”

    It’s deeply ironic that some photographers struggle to justify themselves with the amount of commercial and paid work they are getting, when masters like Adams struggled to get commercial distractions out of the way so that he could have the freedom to pursue, not his ‘profession’, but his ‘art’.

  58. Well done David!

    And as my daughter’s favorite basketball shoe company reminds her with their slogan…. “JUST DO IT”. It has nothing to do with “I am JUST a ….” fill in the blanks is excuses. It is not “Just let me become better before I…”.
    No! Stop it, and rather “JUST go do it!”

    Made my day David! Thanks…

  59. When I started my 365 Project almost a year ago I wasn’t sure where it would lead me. When someone would ask what I was doing I’d say something like, I’m just a guy with a camera trying to be creative. Recently I blogged about me telling a coworker that I’m a photographer and a friend who is a very talented landscape photographer pointed out that this was the first time I had described myself as a photographer and he was very proud to hear me say it. I guess I never really thought about it until he pointed it out. It does feel good to just say…I’m a photographer. 🙂

  60. I took your advice a while back and bought the War of Art. It’s excellent and clearly states the difference between amateur and pro. What’s good about it though is that it made me realize that most ‘amateurs’ are actually ‘pros’ already.

    As a side note, I dreamt last night that I was on the run from the police for running away from a photo shoot that I had set up. I didn’t do anything, I just ran away. The War of Art has made me realize that the dream probably has a much deeper meaning, especially as I seem to be in some kind of photographic rut again.

    Thanks as always for the great post.

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  62. We are all artists; some of us are temperamental, some are judgmental, some are good, some are bad, but we are all artists.

  63. Author

    @ Chris – yes, it’s great being a working photographer. But there are benefits both ways. Getting paid is not in any way a validation of your work. There are all kind so clients with no taste that will pay for garbage. Getting paid means you get paid, not that your work is meaningful to you, or something you love, necessarily.

    And yes, pros use pro-gear often because they beat the crap out of it. And sometimes the client wants bigger files, yadda, yadda. But they won’t know or care what you shot your portfolio with. And when they give you the deal, then go buy a 1Ds MkIII or D3X and a stable of expensive glass.

    None of that has any bearing on the issue at hand. An amateur is not “just” and amateur. There is no hierarchy, and one is no better than the other. That’s what I’m getting at. Yes, there are working photogs and semi-pros and we could split hairs all day. Helpful if you’re trying to figure out what one does for a living, not in the least helpful if you want to know the calibre of their work.

    Sure, having pro gear might make better images in some case, but it’s still no substitute for talent. The young enthusiast with a great eye and lots of passion can always go buy great gear. The pro with the gear and no vision or passion? No store in the world is going to help him.

  64. every time I visit this blog I learn something new….yesterday I was good today I am better. 🙂

    sorry I stole your line, I just manipulate it 😀

    Thanks David

  65. Thanks for this post — it’s a good reminder of the need to be careful about the labels we put on ourselves and others. I’ve never commented on this blog before, but this post reminded me of a comment my now-husband made when we were dating, calling himself “just” a mechanic. He also has a degree in vehicle design/engineering, is a sought-after specialist in his field, is a wonderful man of integrity, now a great dad, and I knew when I met him that he never was “just” anything.

  66. Hmm – I should probably stop telling people I am *just* a Mum as well. Thought provoking as always.

  67. On the other hand, getting paid by someone for your photographs is an acknowledgement of your work. It is worth something to someone other than you or your spouse. I would love it if one day I made a few bucks from a photograph of mine. It means somebody really likes my photography. Somebody else gave it worth. I am not saying that I would like to make a living with my camera… I don’t. I make a decent living doing something else.

    Also, if it’s “not about the gear”… I would like to know which pro-togs DON’T use pro-bodies. I would think they most do to legitimize their craft. Not having a pro-body may mean to the client that you are not a pro? By not being a pro, may mean your photographs are sub-par to a vocational photographer. Am I right?

  68. Exactly, disregarding the whole pro-am element… it is about being. Just like “being a teacher”, “being a photographer” is expressing and working toward improving your craft. Getting paid is a bonus (or a curse).

    Another example is being a runner… those who enjoy running, for whatever reason are “runners”, everyone else only runs.

  69. This is a great post! A discussion that needs to happen in every art. Artists should love what they create and continually mold and shape themselves into what their art means to them—thus being a professional.

    I’m proud to call you, brother-in-law. See you at Christmas.

  70. Bravo!! That’s a great philosophy for life in general. I’m not just me. I am me. I’m not perfect. I’m not horrible. I keep putting one foot in front of the other and when I worry less about reaching the destination I get more learning and enjoyment out of the journey. I am a photographer.

  71. Thanks, David, for a great post (as always). As a “semi-pro”, meaning I sometimes get paid to photograph, I can confidently say that I would rather be “just” an amateur than do this for a living. This is for a couple of reasons:
    1. I don’t have to photograph things I am not interested in. My vision remains king.
    2. I don’t have to rely on my camera to pay the bills. When I pick up my camera, it is because of the crazy monster in my head that compels me to take photographs, not the mortgage company.
    3. I can use any money that flows in from my photography to buy new gear rather than pay the electric bill.
    4. I have no desire to be a starving artist. My wife doesn’t want to be married to one either.
    5. It never feels like work when I reach for my camera.
    For those reasons (especially #1) and more, I hope to always be more amateur than professional. Thanks for putting things into perspective.

  72. David, this is why you’re awesome. And why I love that you are here, sharing your thoughts, ideas, and your vision. Thank you for being so all-encompassing. You don’t see this kind of attitude from the pros that often.

  73. I am never disappointed when I come to read your posts. If amateur means love, let me be just an amateur forever whether I earn a living from it or not!

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  75. I feel as if you’re speaking directly to me. I think sometimes, when you’re at the very beginning of your photographic journey and your kit is tiny and your camera old, and your technical knowledge is minuscule, it is so easy to let yourself feel intimidated by those you admire or look up to or who just have a bigger camera bag than you. Sometimes it feels like there is an exclusive club you’re just not good enough to belong to. You’re right, it’s not a good attitude to have.
    I take photos because I love it. I take them for me. If others like them, that is SO FREAKING COOL! But it’s not necessary for me to keep taking them. So I’ll drop the “just”.
    Thank you.

  76. Inspiring words! I have always believed that we should always be into photography for ourselves first and foremost. But it sure feels nice being recognized or complimented once a while!

  77. Hi David,
    That makes me feel good about my craft !

    Thanks for this post, which makes me feel a little more confident about “pro vs amateur” photographs !

    And i just finished you 4th e-book : nice one !
    Keep going on, you are awaited… even in France 😉

  78. David, I could kiss you right now! But I won’t, ’cause we’re both married. Ha ha! Seriously though, I want to thank you so much for posting this. Thank you so much for reminding us that its for the LOVE of photography that makes us photographers, not the camera we shoot with, or whether or not we do this as a full-time job. Again, thank you.

  79. Hey David,
    I’m not ‘just’ an amateur. I am an AMATEUR! I shoot what I want, when I want, if I want, how I want. I don’t have to satisfy some friggin’ editor’s (who is a frustrated wannabe) demands, or some client’s desire for me to make them look good (like I’m a plastic surgeon?). I don’t have to dress up in a monkey suit to shoot weddings and make brides look ‘pretty’ on the most important day of their lives. I don’t have to go to ‘meetings’.

    I was a professional for years. Retired. Now I’m an AMATEUR! YIPPEEE!!!

  80. Today is my day, this post and the one from the Chase Jarvis right hand in Scott Kelby blog, give me the confident to keep telling my self that I love to much this craft and I’m a photographer even I’m a Software Engineer.


  81. Wonderful post. I may need an external hard drive just for all my favorite Pixelated Image posts, …they’re piling up!

    My husband fixed a leak in the shower once. Although I was very grateful, I wouldn’t call him a plumber and I wouldn’t dream of sending him to your home to fix a leak! There’s a lot of experience to be gained on the road between DIY and professional. Unlike some other professions, photographers aren’t granted a license, so it’s hard to know when one has arrived.

    Taking away the labels, as you suggest, also takes away excuses. Instead of thinking “I can’t make great images because I’m “just another mom with a camera,” I am free to ask “what if I could make a great image?”

    Photographers who are frustrated and struggling may be attempting to create for the market, …a market that is changing. In his free ebook “How to be Creative,” Hugh MacLeod says, “if you try to make something just to fit your view of some hypothetical market, you will fail. If you make something special and powerful and honest and true, you will succeed. …Part of being a Master is learning how to sing in nobody else’s voice but your own.”

    Thanks, David, for continually encouraging (prodding?) us to find a voice of our own.

  82. It took me a while to “just” call myself a photographer. To take out the qualification. I kind of realized that if I introduced myself that way, I immediately hurt my chances of getting someone as a client (or a paying client) because I’ve inferred some level of unprofessionalism or “less than” quality to myself and my work.

    But then there’s the people who feel the need to define you on sight. “Are you a pro or…” they look at you quizzically; if you answer yes you’re maybe overselling yourself, your abilities, maybe they’ll ask you some pro questions about f-stops and what gear I use afterward… maybe they’ll find out I work on a PC, with a 4-year old camera (it’s not even 14bit) YIPE!. The trail-off at the end of their question, the “or…” “just a guy with a camera” or “you suck” or “I won’t like you, hire you, tell my friends about you.”

    It’s all in my mind – they were just making small-talk; before I would QUICKLY correct them “I’m JUST an amateur” holding my head low a bit, avoiding eye-contact, high hopes, dashed dreams maybe? I’m not making my living on this – but man, I’m doing it – a lot – and damn near every day.

    You are what you believe yourself to be. I am. I love doing this. Some days I get paid and praise, some days I get neither – or worse. We need those “I am Canadian” Molson Beer guys to put a bit of esteem back in this community:

    “You shoot at the wrong ISO sometimes.”

    “You wish you had a pretty model instead of your mom.”

    “You wake up at 4AM, skip breakfast, hike an hour, only to realize you’re facing West and it’s overcast”

    “You blow out your highlights AND your shadows while shooting JPEG instead of RAW?”

    and “You lift your camera to your eye, only to realize you’ve left the lens-cap on…”


  83. I think it`s a fine post too, but I believe it has more to do with the word `just` than either amateur or professional. `I`m just a…..` Curious, though, that one doesn`t hear someone say I`m `just` a .writer…`just an teacher`…if you get my drift. `Just as` can be (as Scott says) contentment with one`s vocation, but I rather think it is more like a humbleness, expressed by one who may not be earning for his creative endeavours. This is merely my own take on a sensitive subject, but it is generally accepted that a professional is one who earns from what he does. Which in no way rules out the brilliance of many amateurs. I run an picture agency specialising in travel in the developing world and religious images. 50% of outstanding photos are by `amateurs`who do earn, but they are in employ other than full-time photography.
    Thank you.

  84. Author

    @Scott – I think the solution is to have fewer categories, not more. As I said, if we must qualify this let’s aim for something nobler. Or at least more helpful. I’d rather know what you photograph and why than how much money you do or don’t make at it. I see where you’re coming from but in the overall culture of photography I think we need to move in a different direction not just refine the current (and infinitely unhelpful) direction that we’re currently taking.

  85. There really ought to be a third category: those who aspire to be professionals. Not all amateurs do. Perhaps the “just an amateur” idea is a statement of contentment with one’s vocation – an indication that one does not aspire to become a professional. Thus we have the amateur (those who are not currently paid and have no dreams of being paid for what they do) aspiring professionals (those who are not currently paid but “wannabes”) and professionals (those who are currently paid.)

  86. I think that often, amateur photographers think that finding somebody to pay them to make photographs would legitimize their craft (and perhaps also the financial investment one often makes while pursuing this craft). It doesn’t. It only commercializes it, which, although sounds nasty, is absolutely fine. We’ve all got to pay the bills. Some do it with photography. Some don’t.

    I could name many famous photographers who are, IMO, complete hacks (but I won’t). I could also name many amateur photographers who make amazing and inspiring photographs. Money is not the measure. It never is. In fact, I’d much rather photograph for free. It’s only because others don’t want to give me electricity, food, etc. for free that I have to think about how to pay bills. I get no pleasure at all from commercial transactions. Zero. In my mind, they don’t make me a professional; they make me somebody in need of money. And maybe that’s the real difference.

    Rather than looking down on amateurs, professionals should be envious. Amateurs are out there shooting for the love of photography and not because the mortgage is due next week. Professionals also shoot for the love of photography (at least the good ones do), but there’s also the burden of commercializing that passion.

    Anyhow, in this case, “just” is definitely a four-letter word. Great post David.

  87. Beautifully put!! Took the feelings I have had in my head for a while now and put them down in perfect words!! I have been told my more “pro’s” that am only an “amateur” and have lots to learn yet. That can be such a slap in the face, it makes one want to walk away from photography and never look back. Then to read your words and see they are close to what I have felt in the past makes me feel refreshed and ready to keep moving on.
    Thanks for this post!!

  88. Great point. At certain times (tax wise) I have done photography (part-time instead of FT) and then people would say, “oh you are not a pro anymore?” My response would sound like my grandma, a Patois “lawdamercy,” and that used to bother me. Now I don’t care. I am concerned about shooting for $ because my bill collectors won’t accept my love as payment but I love photography so much. I really do. It’s way more than income here and there. It gives meaning and purpose to my life, it’s an outlet of expression and it’s therapeutic even. I love to shoot for myself and have many images that I share with no one. Thanks for a great post. Words like “just” have a lot of weight and are dangerous in a negative way.

  89. You talking to me there David?

    And I heard where you were coming from when I had introduced myself in NYC months back. I think I’ve dropped the “just” since then too — sometimes.

    But I do have to stick up for the four letter word and say I’m quite happy *just* shooting for the fun of it, and *just* shooting whatever I fancy that day and no other reasons out of my control.

  90. Yup, Amen, agree, etc, etc. I lead a number of workshops…. I can pretty much assure you that every one of the participants will make an image I wished I had. And you know what? That makes me VERY HAPPY!!
    Just because I happen to be the leader (so called professional) does not mean I create better images. That is such hogwash! Saying you are JUST an amateur is like a Mom saying she is JUST a “stay at home Mom”… HELLO!!! That is THE MOST important and difficult job in the world!

  91. Great post. There should be more photogs that think this way. Even on a local level, where people only generate local notoriety, you can see egos build. They wont say hi to a fellow photog when you are all shooting in common areas. Rarely even a nod of approval. Get conversational or something. Ask what they are using, what they are doing. Get some community going. There needs to be more open photogs instead of egos.

    again, great post

  92. Well said David!

    I’m not sure what i’d be classed. I”ve spent most of my life trying to avoid being classed as anything (from “a punk” back in ’76 listening to the pistols et al, right through to today as a photographer) other than ‘a bit of everything’. My situation is what it is and like everyone else i work according to that but, a couple of weeks ago I packed in working full-time and became what is probably classed as “semi-pro”.

    Funny thing is, I woke up the morning after, and nothing had changed. No magical fairy dust on the lens, no sudden levelling of the camera, not even so much as an improved ability for hand holding. Even getting out of bed was just as hard 🙁

  93. THANK YOU! I’m one of your quiet readers and an amateur. Many times I refrain from comments because “I’m just an amateur and couldn’t possibly have anything of value to say.” But I LOVE what I do, I’m working at improving my skill set and most importantly I need to stop worrying where I fit in and just do did. To that end this post is a wonderful reminder.

  94. Interestingly, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, professionals were looked down upon in the world of the photography cognoscenti and to be an amateur was applauded as your art was not tainted by monetary influences.

    How things change 🙂

    I do wonder what proportions of photographers who call themselves ‘professional’ make the majority of their income from it.

    Tim – Happily amateur..

  95. I heard Michael Freeman interviewed on the TSB Podcast say that the one and only difference between a pro and an amateur is that one gets paid and the other doesn’t. Very fundamental but something I keep in my head.

  96. Excellent blog post that addresses a subject that can cause sparks to fly but it is so important to dispel the myth on what makes a photographer! Agree completely with your comments!

  97. If I’m not mistaken, you had a similar post a while back that started a great line of comments on this very subject, one you seem to be very sensitive to. It definitely help me see myself with a clearer pair of glasses. The point in that thread was the idea of our creativity. I stopped taking photos a few years ago and began creating images.

    My typical response to peoples question if I was a photographer was to tell them I was a “photographer-wanna-be.” I no longer respond with that answer but tell them yes I’m a photographer. My answer now opens doors that were never there before. It’s exciting to have my camera in hand and let my vision come alive.

  98. From the Concise Oxford Dictionary (Tenth ed.)

    DERIVATIVES amateurism n.
    – ORIGIN C18: from Fr., from Ital. amatore, from L. amator ‘lover’, from amare ‘to love’.

    Says it all I think.

  99. Completely agree. It’s the way I think. You made my day… again!
    Thank you so much!
    Just… keep inspiring us.

  100. A-MEN.

    This is a truth that needs to be shouted from the rooftops, drummed into photographers heads (some with a larger mallet than others).

    I perceive a lot of longing among photographers these days to ‘make it’, to be recognized by their peers. While recognition is nice, I think we spend too much time chasing recognition and others PERCEPTIONS of us as photographers and not enough time just BEING photographers.

    Thanks for the reminder to us all David.

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