Professional Photographer: Where do I fit

Ok. Bear with me for a moment while I loop you into the web that is the internet:

Lynda Giddens of Daily Window responded to a post she read at Through the Lens of Kimberly Gauthier that asked the question, “What is good or bad photography?” Her reply became a post, “What is Positive Photography,” which I found on the SITS Girl’s site advertising a new photo challenge {you know me… I’m a sucker for a challenge…}. Lynda’s reply post about positive photography candidly talks about how people enjoy scrutinizing and criticizing other people’s work almost to the point of discouraging them from continuing on their creative path. [As it turns out, Lynda wrote the article over at SITS, too. Go ahead, Rachelle, for not initially reading the post byline.]

Have I lost you yet?
No? Great.

So, I felt the need to comment at her site. I do, after all, like letting people know I visited.

I saw your comment feed over at SITS and thought I’d come read the article. Some really good commentary here. Thank you for addressing the topic.

Good photography is always subjective. I’m always in awe of what “wins” photo competitions and what does not even generate mention or comments. Everyone who picks up a camera of any kind has the ability to create something amazing. It’s their perspective, their eye, their view on the moment/image/thing they’re hoping to capture.

As one who was knocked down for being different when pursuing my photojournalism degree (opted to shoot at a local zoo behind the scenes instead of focusing on human poverty and depravity like my instructor preferred), I know it’s hard to keep focused on your goals when others interrupt with opinion.

I’ve not gotten any negative comments on my posts yet, but what I post (and the accompanying images) is for me – – my chronicles of the world as I see it. I’ve been blessed to run across some pretty supportive people who encourage me to continue with developing my artistic style.

I liked Lynda’s definition: “Good photography is when you achieve your artistic vision. Bad photography is when you fail it.”

And then my mind got all dangerous on me and I started to think about all the articles I’ve seen rolling through the social network scrolls about “wanna-be professionals” stealing clients from the real deal folk. And those snarky comments about moms with their hoighty-toighty cameras offering sub-par photos to paying customers. There’s a great animosity for pretenders.

But really, what makes a photographer a professional?

I’ve seen a lot of people dipping their toes into the waters of paid photography. Some fledgling professionals never get further than wading near the shore. Perhaps they’re beaten down by unsupportive (jealous?) folk who critique without offering constructive ideas. Other professionals are treading in deep water within months of starting out. And still others have no desire to swim, but enjoy toting their camera around everywhere and occasionally agree to giving a session to a friend or family member.

I admit here and now that the metaphor is failing because I can’t swim. At all. I won’t even get my hair wet if I can help it. I have, however, been known to take my camera into the water to get a great shot of my water babies knowing full well that I didn’t invest in underwater housing.

Ok. So water is dried up. I continue without it.

I’ve had a website and business cards advertising myself as a photographer for years. I take great pride in the images I produce for my clients – paid and unpaid. I get that nervous, queasy stomach right before every session. I doubt every shot I take and wonder if I got “the one” that makes their time worth it. And even when I’m done shooting and load my pictures on the computer, the fear of failure looms heavy. I wait anxiously and impatiently for feedback praying that I’ve satisfied the photographic need.

Cousins at pier

I couldn't resist taking this photo of cousins while they were watching ducks at a local park. It wasn't part of the maternity session I was shooting, exactly, but I knew the little boy's mom would love what I saw.

I heard once that if you’re not nervous before a big event, you don’t care enough. I wonder if that’s true.

Maybe I’m not a professional photographer. Poet Sonia Sanchez called my work “beautiful artistry.” It’s a compliment I’ll treasure always. But am I the one those meanies are criticizing?

I believe photographic services should be accessible, personal, and comfortable. Accessible meaning worth the cost of your photographer’s time and talent and worth your time and money. Personal meaning “the pose of the month” on the background of the season isn’t the only shot you’re offered. A photographer should spend some time (effort) getting to know their subjects and capture them honestly. And comfortable? Well, let me share a few personal experiences:

I’ve never felt more beautiful than when in front of Rachel Stephen’s lens because she told me I was stunning and worked hard to capture me that way. I’ve never felt more loved than when Lisa Julia pulled me aside and offered to re-shoot my newborn photos because she saw my dismay at the company’s reactions to my in-house session. And even before that, when Lisa called to dream with me about my vision for the photos I wanted, I’ve never felt more understood. These, to me, are professional photographers.

Conversely, I’ve never felt more ignored than when I took my kids to another “professional” who ignored my desires to catch a shot of my son demonstrating his newly acquired walking talents and my hope for personality shots of my daughter. I’ve never felt more used than when I was rushed into a department store “professional” studio, forced into approving the first photo shot, and then five snaps later told to wait in a lobby.

So… where do I fit in as a professional?

Honestly, as Lynda wrote, a photographer – or any artist – has to have a vision. It’s not what you capture, but how you’ve captured it. It’s style. It’s post-processing. It’s consistency. Yes, there is technical knowledge, but there is also God-given, innate talent – the so-called eye. There’s no reason to hate the would-be professional. There’s no reason to raise a ruckus about people charging low fees for their work. There’s no reason to snub your nose at Mommy-with-camera who pours through all things photography-related to learn how to capture life.

Clients will select their photographer because of their sample work, their personality, and for a host of other reasons unique to each. I am a professional because I strive to meet my clients’ needs or I turn them to another professional better suited to their goals. I am also a professional because I believe you can never know too much, should never be too humble to seek advice, and should never be so confident that you lose sight of the people whose images you are capturing. And I am a professional because I willingly share whatever I can about what I’m doing so that someone else might also benefit.

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  1. I love this article, Rachelle! Thank you so much for writing it!

    If clients are being stolen, it’s because people like the photographer and keep going back to them. Otherwise, they’d be right back to the first photographer after the first session.

    As for any skill, you pay for the level of craftsmanship, knowledge and experience that went into it. If Mary Sue wants to charge her friends $20 to take pictures at parties… why isn’t she entitled to do that just because a more experienced photographer would charge hundreds of dollars just to come take the pictures.

    I’m so glad I found you and look forward to exploring your blog more! 🙂

    • And honestly, how do you get experience in the first place? I’m all for giving someone a chance to demonstrate talent. There’s room for us all and clients will find who they Vibe with.

  2. This is a great post– very inspiring to me!

  3. Wow such a well written article! You said it perfectly!!! Thanks!

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