For the next lesson in my Find Your Eye: Journey of Fascination class, I’ve been asked to compare myself to my idea of a “real photographer” to see where I come up short in my own mind, and to think about what I reflexively apologize for about my photography. Oh, yes, and to stop doing that!
The first thing I realized is that my definition of a real photographer has changed over time. I used to think it was anyone who took better pictures than I did. And that was just about anyone. While I didn’t apologize for my photography, if someone complimented me on it I just sort of shrugged it off. I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence. Now I tend to think of a real photographer as a professional photographer — someone who makes a living — or at least has ambitions to — from his or her photography. That’s a more comfortable definition for me, because I have no desire to go pro, and therefore don’t have to compare myself to those people at all.
However, that’s really sidestepping the question, because of course I do have ideas about “real” (i.e., serious) photographers in the sense that Kat means it. They shoot with a top-of-the-line dSLR. They never go anywhere without a camera bag or backpack loaded with a camera or two, extra lenses, flash, filters, etc. They shoot RAW images, in manual, and always use a tripod. They process their images with the latest version of full-fledged Photoshop, not its little brother, Elements. They want to sell their work.
But that’s not me, and I don’t apologize for it. I have tried some of those things in the past; for example, loading all my equipment into a professional-style bag so I could carry it on a photoshoot. I can tell you that having all that weight on my shoulder took the joy out of photography and actually drove me away from it for quite some time. It was eventually buying a small point and shoot film camera that brought me back to the pleasure of taking pictures.
Now I have an excellent dSLR that I love, but I still often use a small P&S that slips into my purse. I seldom use a tripod because it’s just not my style. It’s too cumbersome and fussy for me. I love my Photoshop Elements; it fits my budget and along with Lightroom has all the features I need to handle my post-processing. I’ve still never tried shooting in RAW, since JPEG has been adequate for my needs. And — o, heresy — I shoot in Program or Aperture Priority mode most of the time. Sometimes even in Auto!
All this works for me, and needs no apologies. If it bothers someone else, I figure that’s their problem, not mine. That’s not to say that I think I’m a hot-shot photographer, or that there’s no room for improvement. The fact that I’m here, taking classes and striving to learn and grow, belies that. But I’m happy with who I am and where I am on this Journey. I can admire the work of others and even want to emulate it, without thinking that means there’s something wrong with me.
I think part of this new-found confidence comes with age. I’ve been through plenty and come out intact on the other side. The older I get, the less I care what others might think about me. Besides, one of my all-time favorite quotations is this from Ethel Barrett:
We would worry less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do.
I am real and my photographs are a real expression of who I am. Therefore, I am a real photographer. There’s nothing to apologize for in that.
Note: That photo at the top? I took that with my very first camera, a piece of plastic junk that didn’t even last through one whole roll before the film advance knob broke. Though the image quality is lousy, I think I had a pretty good eye for composition even then. And that blurry image brings back to me the best summer I ever had.
I was eleven years old.