Everyone’s A Photographer?

In Pep Talks, Rants and Sermons by David25 Comments

I posted this to FaceBook one year ago and now seems as good a time as ever to post this here.

I was speaking last year at an event with a panel of photographers. There was a Q&A afterwards and someone asked me what I thought about this idea that “everyone is a photographer.” I told her I agreed. Everyone is a photographer.

My answer made her angry. Fear will do that to you.

You can’t have a conversation with so-called professionals these days, or spend much time on social media these days without hearing someone decry the fact that now that everyone has a camera everyone “thinks they’re a photographer.” Much agreement follows. Also grumbling. Then someone uses the word “faux-tographer” and someone else uses the word “Mom-tographer” with a sneer, and don’t even get me started on all these kids these days with their iPhones. Who do they think they are? Get off my lawn and get a real camera, kid!

When did we become so small? So fearful? When did we crank our hearts down to f/22, lest the light get in? When did we forget the moment we picked up our first cameras and felt the wonder of it? When did we forget the moment we nervously took our first paying gig, wondering what the hell we were doing and whether we’d just bitten off more than we could chew?

We have made too much of the word “photographer.” We have gilded it with gold. We have idolized it. We have stopped looking through the lens at the incredible world around us and the people that enrich our lives, and we’ve started looking in the mirror instead, polishing the brass badge that says “Photographer.” When did what we call ourselves become so f*cking important? We spend so much time looking at ourselves that we don’t have time to look at the photographs anymore. We compete with others, driven by jealously and fear, when we should be celebrating their work and letting it open our eyes.

When, in the desperate need to protect this new golden calf, did we decide we were the adjudicators, the ones who decide who is and who is not a photographer?

We can do better. We need to do better. Right now we risk getting stranded on the moral high ground, and I’m pretty sure the photographs coming out of frightened hearts aren’t the strongest ones to be made.

Let them be photographers. Let them make photographs with all their hearts, so you can go back to doing the same. I know, some of them might be terrible. Mine were terrible for years. Saying I’m a photographer doesn’t mean I’m a good photographer. And it doesn’t make you any less of one. Let them have this if they want it so badly. Remember when you did?

And if you’re genuinely scared by a landscape in which everyone is a photographer, remember that nothing you say or do will change that. The only thing that will grow your business (because that’s what most of this comes down to: money. And the fear of making less of it.) is you being a better photographer, a better storyteller, a better marketer, a better networker. But know this: no one wants to do business with bitter people whose gaze is more inward that outward, whose most creative work is the dubiously clever act of coming up with new words with which to trivialize and ridicule people who love photography as much as you once did.

Remember when photography opened our eyes and heart and mind instead of closing them?

Remember when this was fun?

Let’s go back to that.

For the Love of the Photograph,

PS – Want more like this? I send these articles out every two weeks to photographers around the world who want to improve their craft and explore their creativity and I’d love to include you. Tell me where to send it and I’ll send you a copy of my best-selling eBook Make Better Photographs, as well bi-weekly articles, first-glimpse monographs of my new work, and very occasional news of resources to help you keep moving forward in this craft we love.

“Each and every one of your emails inspire and motivate me to want to jump right out of my chair away from my computer and shoot for the love of it . Thank you David.” – Millie Brown


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  4. This is at the heart of where you are mistaken :

    “The only thing that will grow your business (because that’s what most of this comes down to: money. And the fear of making less of it.) ”

    You’re projecting your value system, business, and personal fear of bigger better competition onto the actual reason that artists take offense to the arrogance of people who feel entitled to the respect of a real photographic artist . You’re really trying to claim it’s simply about money ? LMFAO

    I can’t speak for the business people, but on behalf of other artists, it’s clear from all your short sighted assumptions and self congratulatory statements that you truly don’t understand the mind and life of an artist and their purpose.

    Call it “snobbery” or “elitism” but that’s still not a legitimate criticism. It’s just a bratty defense because you want something that most people simply don’t all possess. But it’s fine, that’s what artists are for. So show a little respect for history and these professional artists and don’t be so quick to speak on something that’s not your experience.

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  6. You nailed it, partner. I sold my first photo for money to the Associated Press in 1975. Since that time there were always people who held up a photograph that they, or a friend, or a cousin took. It was usually accompanied with, “…and they did it with an Instamatic.” They would add that the shutterbug was as good as any professional. I would tell them, “Good job!” and Smile. What I wanted to say… back then… was, “Let’s see [insert name] do that now, tonight, tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon.” Encouragement is the better response, so I would add, “Go for it!”

    Today there are folks who get very good, sometimes great, images with digital equipment. I still say, “Good job!” and Smile. But, honestly, sometimes I think, “Dang, I wish I had made that image.” Then I tell them, “Go for it!” I’m having fun, they can too. – JB

  7. Well, it’s December already and I just got to read this take on “photographers”. Great input! I call myself a hobbyist cuz I will be forever learning the craft. Probably never make any money doin’ it. Do wish I knew about photography schools back 4 decades ago, but girls then were expected to be teachers, nurses, ….well, you get it. So late in life, got a delicious Nikon ff and learned to shoot manual. Hey, its the only thing I have complete control over. For me, it’s therapy. Feelin’ crappy…go out and shoot somethin’. It’s the best elixir ever.

    It use to be that “Photoghrapher” meant professional and paid(The Dictionary describes Photographer as “a person who takes photographs, especially as a job”). So I will never call my self a “photographer”. But that doesn’t mean what I do is crap or unprofessional. I’ve won several awards. That tells me I’m doin’ somethin’ right,.. I’m on the right track.
    Back to the “everybody is a photographer” issue. Sure they are. They are taking pictures. They are “photographing”. I guess it just comes down to how every individual interprets the word.

  8. Calling anyone photographer, or trying to prevent that are equally valid viewpoints, even as articulated in the article. On the other hand, we do not call everyone who grabs a wrench and repairs the kitchen sink a plumber, or those who can balance a checkbook accountant, and find more examples along these ways. The difference in the case of a “photographer” is the loosest use of the word tied only to one thing: The image capturing device they may have on their phones, eyeglasses, in their camera bags. A bricklayer is not anyone who lays bricks, but a photographer is anyone who photographs? Perhaps we should have stuck with the original word they tried to use: Photographist!

    I believe reducing the logic to one of money is overly simplistic. The real question lies in what exactly we consider a photograph and who produces that. Some do it for money, others may have reasons beyond that. But they will likely converge on the understanding of what photography is, what art is, what photographic art is. Or, I alone may think that.

  9. “Let them make photographs with all their hearts, so you can go back to doing the same.”

    Truth bomb.

    The more I interact with the “industry”, the less I desire to be part of it and the pretense that surrounds it. It really took the joy out of it for me, and I love photography way too much to put the world around it before the work that I love to do.

    That said, I’m not to say they’re mutually exclusive… I’d just personally rather pay the bills in other ways so I can do the work I love uninhibited (my way of working isn’t likely to be commercially viable for me anytime soon lol).

    Thanks for this little bit of clarity to bring us back down to Earth!

  10. Amen David! And with all these photographers out there, we still see lots of bad photos out there, or no photos at all where there should be some. I think the opportunity and need for great images today outweighs the supply. We don’t have to be the best photographers. We have to be passionate and really good and hard working and create value for others with our unique vision.

  11. Nice article, thank you David!

    To me technological progress is all about enabling more and more people to do what they love to do. When I started to take photographs 30 years ago it was quite a challenge to get a properly exposed slide in difficult light and I enjoyed the challenge as much as the chemical processing of film and paper. These days it’s almost impossible to create an image that can’t be rescued in easy to perform post-processing. At some point this lack of a challenge almost killed the fun for me. However, obviously it’a a great development (no pun intended). Almost 200 years after Niepce photography is still alive and kicking and more so than ever before. We’re living in great times.

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  13. Thanks Craig! I can always count on you for something intelligent and graceful. Best to you, my friend.

  14. Hey David,

    Really relevant, not only to photographers, but to many professions. Human nature tends to override the positive and move toward the primal trait of survival. Followed closely by fear. With the obstacles of entry into the profession of photography becoming nearly nonexistent, these primal fear and survival tendencies are easily brought to the surface.

    Maturity and confidence are often swept under the rug, as we bad mouth our competitors. Only to realize, some time later, how petty and small those statements make us! Clients really don’t want to hear how the guy down the block is a schmuck. They really want to hear what we as professionals have been “up to”.. As you say, they want to hear a story, perhaps a tale of an exciting personal project, a charity you are aiding, an adventure….. Life is too short to constantly worry about “the competition”…. In reality, it is ourselves that we need to think about and improve. Only when our story is compelling, will we truly be able to consider ourselves “professionals”..

    Be well friend!



  15. One of the things that I tell my classes: “Every great photographer that has ever picked up a camera has been exactly where you are now….at some point in their career.” By broadening the scope of abilities of everyone we are elevating the craft. This is good.

  16. VERY clever cover photo to frame your point…perhaps even at workshops for this group, there MAY be an unafraid, outstanding photog in the group ;))
    …I believe you have your blogging mojo back!

  17. Everyone is a photographer, and it’s great. The increased sample size allows me to see more of why I stand out, and what makes me different than others.

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