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Is there a line between Amateur and Professional Photography?

I’ve been thinking about the evolution (or devolution, depending on your point of view) of the photography industry a LOT lately, and after reading the statement below, it seemed like the right time to chime in:

Her comment understandably hit the emotional backbone of the photography community and many comments and blog posts followed, most of them blasting her for being so callous and thoughtless.

When I saw the video (about 46 minutes in), I thought her comment had been taken out of context, and that she was specifically referring towards the trends that Flickr was experiencing. But aside from what appears to be an off-the cuff response to a reporter’s question, the question she raised is a great one: is there a line between the Amateur and Pro Photographer?

Sadly, I don’t think there is.

If you want to be a Professional Photographer, there are absolutely NO qualifications or schooling required. There’s no photography license needed, no college degree, and no board certification. There’s not even a universal definition of what a Professional Photographer is or is not. The barriers to entry are zero, and there are no industry-wide standards. If you have a camera and a Facebook page, you’re in; you can call yourself a Pro.

So if there are no definitions or mandatory qualifications of what a Photographer is or isn’t, does that mean we’re all Amateurs? Or are we all Professionals? While there are recognized photography associations like the PPOC or PPA, they only supply an accreditation and in no way are needed to call yourself a Professional. A few examples: Let’s say you’ve been a hobbyist for a few years and you make incredible images and you get your first client. Are you an Amateur? Let’s say you’re great at marketing and get a ton of clients but your work is mediocre at best. Are you a Professional? What if you were once a full-timer but now just do a few shoots a year. Has your Pro status been reverted to Amateur? How you got started, how long you’ve been around, and how good your work is doesn’t determine your photographic status, and by definition these things can’t, unless there are specific tests or milestones that a photographer needs to pass and achieve in order to progress from Amateur to Pro.

I think that the only person that determines if you’re a Professional or Amateur is you.

I also think that more and more often, the ethical responsibility within the choice of how a photographer promotes him/herself  gets lost in the quest to get a business started up fast, but that’s another discussion for another time.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes a professional as: “participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavour often engaged in by amateurs.” It’s a fairly broad meaning that’s open to interpretation, so it’s no wonder that so many people are calling themselves Professionals whether they’ve been in business for 7 days or 7 years. Personally, I’ve always thought that a Professional Photographer was someone who earned the majority of their income from photography, but that’s true for very few photographers today.

After 16 years of part-time and full time photography, I hate to say it, but the line between the Amateur and Pro is all grey. It’s not doom and gloom though - photography will continue as an art and a business, and no matter how it’s classified, photographers will continue to make money doing what they love to do.

Why shooting more images is bad


I saw a tweet by a wedding photographer the other day that bragged about shooting more than 7000 images at a wedding.

Seven. Thousand.

That’s a lot of photos. It’s the equivalent of holding your shutter down for 23 minutes straight if you have a 5-FPS (frames-per-second) camera. Or, for all you Filmies out there, it’s the same as shooting 194 rolls of 36-exposure film.

A normal photographer’s Twitter account logically targets clients and other photographers; clients get to read about the latest goings-on and photographers get to network. But declaring to your followers that you’ve shot SO many images at ANY event is a bad thing for everyone listening. Why?

Let’s start with why it’s bad for clients. The more images that are shot, the more editing is needed. Editing photos comes in two parts – the cull and the edit. Culling images is looking at an image and deciding whether or not it belongs in the final cut. Editing is processing RAW images into JPEGS which are deliverable to clients. Both of these processes take considerable time (days to weeks) if done diligently, and if a photographer is shooting a ton of images, it follows that editing will take will take longer.

When a photographer is busy, this could easily lead to deadlines falling behind, shoddy workmanship, or an initial price hike if the photographer outsources their editing. And the biggest deal? How many images are you actually going to deliver of those 7000? Let’s say you edit and deliver 1000 photos (which I think is still way too many), you’re announcing to your client that you’re going to be deleting 85% of the images you shot (or the equivalent of 166 rolls of film). That can’t make anyone feel confident in the job you’ve just done. What if there are a few keepers in there that got missed during the massive cull? And as a professional, why did you have to take so many in the first place?

Shooting 7K images is bad for fellow photographers because it basically tells your peers that you don’t know what you’re doing, and you don’t know how to capture the decisive moment. No respectable photographer is going to look at your Twitter declaration and say, wow, good for you…did you get any good ones?

The only thing I would say is congratulations for prematurely burning out your camera shutter.

My advice: Keep how much you shoot to yourself. Quantity does NOT equal quality.

How I started photography- Part II


During those initial years of pursuing imagery, I developed a keen sense of people-observation, but along the way I hit a roadblock.

Largely because of my working environment, the more I looked, the more ugliness I saw in people. I started avoiding personal relationships, and I grew more and more critical of people I saw working everyday jobs. As my anti-social tendencies grew, I looked down on people who were married or had kids as failures. I felt surrounded by people who had been roped into marriage and had kids by default, and few of them ever smiled.

In 2001, my passion for photography hit an all-time low. The years on ships had pummeled my confidence and excitement into something dark and unrecognizable, and the thought of making a living as a photographer fell far away. I gave up on my photographic dream and sold all my camera bodies and lenses. A week later I escaped to India for the third time, and I swore to my friends and parents that I would never get married or have kids.

Less than a year later, in 2002, I unexpectedly met my wife on a beach in Thailand. I had been relaxing in a hammock for several weeks at a hidden beach on Koh Lanta, and she rocked my world like no other. We were married just four months later in an 11th-century stone church a few hours outside of London, and I still had such a critical view of wedding photography that instead of hiring someone to shoot our wedding, I bought a 4MP digital Sony P+S and asked my wife’s cousin to take a few shots.

I deeply regret that now.

For the first four years of marriage we traveled and worked a few different jobs and it wasn’t until 2006 that we even considered having children. That year my wife was pregnant, and unwilling to take a regular, uncreative job, I took a huge risk and decided to try my hand at wedding photography…

How I started photography – Part I

In my early adult years, I didn’t know enough about myself or about life to make very many good decisions. When I bought my first SLR, it was 1997 and Andre Agassi was still advertising for Canon. I bought a Rebel G with a 28-80mm kit lens, and shot negative film for a few months.

And I immediately fell in love with creating images.  A few months later I upgraded to a Nikon D90s with faster lenses and slide film. I studied the technical and compositional side of photography furiously and became deeply inspired by nature and wildlife artists such as Galen Rowell, Courtney Milne and Art Wolfe. My work focused on landscapes and travel, and though I wasn’t making any money with photography, I really loved it. To pay for the high expense of slides and processing, I worked at throwaway jobs, all the while dreaming of the day my first photography book would be published and I would became a National Geographic photographer.

While my love of personal photography grew, so did my frustration for the generic jobs I took on. I worked intermittently on cruise ships for a few years and I was able to save enough money in one six-month contract to travel for six months. When I traveled, I carried my camera everywhere, but when I came back to work, I was miserable.

Six months on a cruise ship can be a long time. Most crew are generally on ships to escape something back home (I was avoiding the mere scent of being locked into paying rent and having a low-paying job), cabins are tiny, work hours are long, and passengers (PAX) tend to lose about 40 IQ points when they board a ship. Most PAX go into a state of apathetic relaxation and ask the same questions every day, every week, and as my contract dragged, I grew unhappier and more judgmental of my co-workers and customers. I cherished my free time with my camera in various ports and dreaded going back to my floating job.  All I wanted to do was make great images…

Office Ergonomics

I sit at my computer desk for many hours most days, and for my first couple of years in photography, I developed all sorts of strains and aches in my back, wrist and shoulders. Back then, I had a cheap office chair and ergonomics wasn’t high on my list of priorities.

Over time though, those nagging aches have turned into real pains, and I started researching methods to alleviate them. And you know what? After changing just four things, I’m pain-free.

The Chair

This was my most expensive outlay but worth every nickel. I bought a Knoll Generation chair, which is in the same category as the famed Aeron but a hundred times better. It’s fully adjustable in a dozen ways and I can sit in it all day without fatigue.

The Arm Supports

The Ergo-Rest supports from Finland look like futuristic robot arms poking out from my desktop, and take an amazing amount of stress off of my shoulders and forearms. Think of your arms floating a few inches above your keyboard and you’ll have an idea what they’re like.

The Mouse

I saw a great video that described in detail how unnatural it is to use a ‘normal’ computer mouse, and after developing an insane amount of pain and inflammation in my right wrist and forearm, I picked up a handshake-grip mouse by Evoluent and I haven’t looked back. Within four weeks of using my new mouse, the pain was completely gone.

The Fixer

I also saw the best Chiropractor in the lower mainland to take care of the old issues that had never been properly fixed. After going through one massage therapist, two physiotherapists, and three chiropractors, I luckily found Dr. Song. He’s what I call an intuitive chiropractor; never has be laid me down on his table and click-click-clicked away. Instead, he’s efficiently worked at solving the issue at hand so I don’t need to go back again next week.

Got pains like I did? Take care of them before they get out of control.

Is your camera tilted?

Some of my daily blogs will be instructional and for the first one, we’ll look at tilting.

I think we’re all adult enough to admit that we’ve all done this at one time or another in an effort to bring an ‘artistic’ quality to our images. But let’s face it; tilted images look like they were made by someone who was midway falling into a pothole.

The two big problems with tilting?

1. Very often, too much tilting is used as a substitute for creativity.

2. If you want to straighten the image so it looks half-normal, you’ll end up cropping out 30-50% of the pixels.

My advice? Keep it real and improve your craft. Learn about composition and lighting and what makes a great photo. And then practice what you’ve learned. And if you really need to tilt an image, do it in post-processing so you have the most image pixels to work with.

Our next instructional will be on contemporary processing techniques and answer this often asked question: are skies really yellow?

Hard Drive Backups

About half of non-photographers that I talk to don’t have back up hard drives. That means if your primary hard drive fails, all of your family photos, programs, documents, tax info etc. are gone. There are hard drive recovery
services, but I’ve seen them cost upwards of $4000. The easiest (and cheapest) thing to do? Get a backup drive before it’s too late.

Keep this in mind: ALL hard drives WILL eventually fail. It’s just a matter of when.

Digital storage nowadays is so cheap that there’s virtually no reason to not have your digital life backed up somewhere. I’ve had 5 hard drive failures over the past 6 years, and after my first one, I started backing my drives up in triplicate just in case.

The most successful brands I’ve used are Seagate and Iomega, but just about any drive will do. Another solution is to keep your digital life backed up online with cloud storage; there’s a monthly fee, but there are a ton of companies to choose from and you can access your files worldwide.

It doesn’t matter how you do it – just make sure you back it up!


Big Mug Monday

There’s no question that a good coffee cup is an important piece of equipment, and there’s something remarkable about that first coffee of the work week.

Monday java.It always deserves an aaahhhhh…

I like full bodied, spicy, nutty, aromatic beans but I also like Doublex2 Tim Hortons. Paradox? Maybe. But on most days, any coffee will do. I admit to being a craft beer snob (more on that later), but not a coffee snob.

Coffee is one of those first thing in the morning things, and sometimes (when there are editing deadlines to meet) it’s also the last thing at night. There’s something magical about a steamy mug at the start of the day; for something so relatively inexpensive, it embodies freedom and relaxation so well. More often than not, something from Ethical Bean or Kicking Horse is in my grinder, but on occasion I’ll stray to an Artegiano Select or something local.

The cup is just as important. I have three, heavy, stone handmade cups that complete the drinking experience, and heating each mug up with boiling water  helps the steam last just a little bit longer.

Coffee, I salute thee!