What makes a professional photographer?

So I have spent the better part of the last three years reading Ken Rockwell‘s website along with a plethora of others, and while many commenters on DPReview and Nikon Rumors have plenty to say about him, there is one thing that I am beginning to understand: professionalism never had anything to do with the camera.

I have been working with creating a style and direction for my photography over this time period, because for some reason I want to dive into this overly-competitive market that is full of people who will undercut their own work’s value in order to get a sale or, worse, charge more money than their work is valued by using clever marketing ploys like very fancy websites that have a way of concealing errors in the photography.

Ken Rockwell seems to be on a downward spiral as of late, where his commentary is heading towards audio and other random negative postings as opposed to his traditional mentoring posts and solid equipment reviews that tend to point people in the direction that a) the previous model is just as good because most of us cannot take a photograph with sufficient quality to demonstrate the differences in lenses and b) smaller is better. I kiss some f the old posts, but he too is allowed to get bored of preaching the same thing over and over again. Maybe one day I will get to go on a photo tour with him in order to spend a week talking philosophy instead of megapixels.

Since he is of less interest as of late, I am stuck with the strict equipment reviews of others sites like those mentioned and then read the commentary child-like banter of the subscribers to the sites. Check them out, it is pathetic! But I can’t help feeling that I have become one of them in the past year or so…

As a few of my friends and family may have noticed, I tried dabbling in some professional websites to create an image after I got frustrated with the limitations of iWeb on my website. I tried the usual gamut of SmugMug and Flickr and considered Zenfolio and 500px as well. I obtained all the information I need to get an LLC rolling (instructions fit on an index card) and got a couple quotes together for business cards. But then I threw it all to the back burner because it did not seem to fit me, and I had no idea why.

But then…

I did not know why none of this made sense to me until maybe two months ago. I was reading some commentary from children bickering because Nikon did not release their new model on time (See nuclear fallout in Japan and massive flooding in Taiwan for more on this). These commenters talked like their d700 was defunct and unable to take a quality photograph. These self-proclaimed professional photographer commenters are known as gear heads because they are brilliant in citing specification, but they are clearly not artists. As Ken Rockwell will tell you, an artist will take a beautiful photograph with a point-and-shoot, the heavy duty equipment just makes it easier, faster, and maybe technically a little better. But a bad picture of an excellent subject far outweighs a good picture of a poor subject. So anyway, with that I became so frustrated with these knuckleheads that I threw the computer through the window closed my web browser. My Scotty Photo site is there still because, frankly, I paid an annual subscription to the domain, but I have no intention of making a living photographing real estate. I can take some great interiors, but that is just a side job.

Over the last several months, I reduced my gear bag from several very top of the line lenses to some old-faithfuls and boy I’m glad I did. Another lesson learned from Chase Jarvis is that the best camera anyone can possibly have is the one the have with them. For me, that means a 5″ long 16-35 is just not going to cut it because it is an intimidating lens to photograph someone with, unless they a) hired you b) know you, or c) just love being in stranger’s photographs. I replaced it with a 20mm prime. Fantastic lens at about 1.5 inches long, and just like the 16-35, I can get some great shots of people without them having that six sense that my camera is pointing directly at them. Anyway, enough of that. Thanks to an awesome messenger bag that Matil bought me and my reduction of a couple heavy zooms and a prime to three small primes, my go bag is now manageable and my camera is now something I feel more comfortable with taking for a walk.

So they can have their specification wars, and there will always be a battle between Canon and Nikon while Hasselblad secretly knows it is so good that no one bothers to mention them. For me, I want to take pictures. For that, I must have excellent subjects. That brings me t another point… For anyone reading this, I ask that you consider having your portrait taken. There are thousands of excuses why today or this month isn’t a good time to have a fret portrait taken, but I offer to you that the future may thank you for doing it! Kids grow fast and the subtle changes are barely recognizable. Memories are so important, as my Mom would suggest to everyone. She has our whole lives catalogues in photo albums and even though many of them are snapshots, it is so nice to actually sit down with a book and slowly go through time. Far superior to the look now, forget five minutes from now style that Facebook offers.

Another thing to consider is that while many of us will not have our portrait planted on a dollar bill, our portraits are more important to family and loved ones than the portrait depicted on the dollar bill. It is a great gift for family, because as we all know, life goes way to damn fast and sometimes it is very important and healthy to be able to look back. A very great man in Florida taught me that by having two walls in his home, from floor to ceiling, covered in framed photos of family. If one photo tells a thousand words, anyone walking into his home should be prepared to read a really great book about his family and experiences.

So here are my rumblings, submitted to the world when I really should be sleeping! In summary, I’m an artist, not an entrepreneur, so my business and marketing skills are destined to suck. B) I will keep taking photographs and sharing them with the service we all use: Facebook and C) you guys should all consider personal and family portraits, this stuff is more important than taxes, 401ks, and 5 year plans. : )

What do you think? And if you guys agree that portraits are ever-so-important, would you give me a call?


One thought on “What makes a professional photographer?

  1. I do a lot of TFP simply because I love taking photos and a lot of aspiring models just cant afford my day rate. Rather than discount, I establish a relationship of trust and everybody wins. As for Ken Rockwell, my personal jury is out, I used to love his honesty, now I am not so sure its really that honest. As for portraits, they are the modern day art form that captures and holds lifes’ emotions. Nice post!!


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