When you’re just beginning your photography journey, most of your days look like this: gather information, try some things and fail, cry, get re-inspired, gather information, rinse, and repeat. And most of the information you gather is from other photographers shooting the same stuff you want to shoot, only they’re way, way, better at it.
Your brain knows these people have been perfecting their craft for years, that they’ve failed at the same things you’re failing at, but your heart knows you want to be there, right now, SO BADLY. You want to feel confident in your work. You want to make art you’re proud of. You want to be a real photographer.
You probably already know how I feel about how this industry “welcomes” new members (if not you can read all about it here). Short version: it gets very judgmental and standoffish, protects knowledge like knowledge should be kept a secret, and knocks you down just for trying.
I will agree it is frustrating to be a business owner offering a high-end luxury service when someone with an entry-level DSLR moves to town and starts offering 10,000 photos for $25.00.
But here’s the thing: the chances are pretty damn high that person has NO idea they’re doing anything wrong; they just love photography and realized they could make money doing it. It’s up to the rest of us to educate.
We shouldn’t discourage you from starting a photography business if you love photography and business. We should encourage you to take your time, to do your research, to put your heart and soul into your service, and to do your best to grow as an artist. Because if you’re willing to do the work and we’re willing to support you in your journey, we will ALL get better.
So as for when you become a “real” photographer, check this out: if you write, you’re a writer. If you run, you’re a runner. If you cook you’re a cooker (or something like that).
And guess what:
[fuh-tog-ruh-fer] – noun
a person who takes photographs
(also, did you laugh out loud at “fuh-tog-ruh-fer?” If so, you’re my people.)
Turns out if you take photographs, you’re a photographer. So I think what you’re actually wondering is not when you’re a real photographer, but when you’re a professional photographer. Let’s break that down:
[pruh-fesh-uh-nl] – noun
(of a person) engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime
Pretty simple, hey? If you take photographs, you’re a photographer. If the bulk of your income comes from taking photographs, you’re a professional photographer.
There’s no shame in being a beginner. I promise. Even if it does feel like an entire industry is trying to shame you. We’re all growing all the time, and as long as you’re open to the idea of learning new things and accepting that you don’t know it all, in my book you’re allowed to call yourself a real photographer.
Now go take some photographs and prove me right.