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What makes a real photographer?

Colourful beach houses in Whitby. Click on the image to view large.

Before getting into what makes a real photographer - yes it's been a while since my last blog, and I'd like to thank you for the emails and comments chasing me up for fresh content. Nice to know my articles are appreciated.

Speaking of appreciation, I received a lovely email from the Acadamy of Art University in San Franscisco saying nice things including, "Your site is a great resource and source of inspiration for many of our students here at the Academy of Art University."

One of their students, Elena Zhukova, has attracted media attention. She was featured in CMYK Magazine in January. Check her out.

So what makes a 'real photographer'

Trying to define the difference between a photographer, as in someone who takes pictures and, for lack of a better term, a 'real photographer' is tricky. We recognise real photographers when we get to know a bit more about them and have been exposed to a significant body of their work. For me the recognition seems intuitive. It's as if there is a huge jump across a chasm separating photographers from 'real photographers'.

Intrigued to find out what criteria my subconscious is using to make the distinction I set about trying to define what makes a 'real photographer'. Fundamentally the output of a 'real photographer' is consistently interesting, stimulating, fresh, different, individual and aesthetically pleasing. A 'real photographer' has a recognisable 'voice', although the way an individual expresses that 'voice' may be through different aesthetic styles.

Being a real photographer is not about:
  • a job title ie Professional Photographer
  • having a qualification
  • selling your photography
  • taking pictures every day
  • carrying the latest camera around
Real photographers can be enthusiasts, amateurs or professionals.

A real photographer:
  • produces work that is interesting and significantly different which gets him or her noticed
  • sticks to their own authentic vision and makes work that rings true with the audience
  • is more interested in communicating than in the process of taking photographs (has something to say)
  • has an eye for a great image
  • is creative in everything they do - their approach, the way they create opportunities for pictures as well as the aesthetics of making the image
  • has emotion in their work which the audience responds to
  • applies technical knowledge
  • is driven to make images - it's not a choice, "I feel if I don't photograph I will die"
  • pays attention to the smallest detail
  • is willing to put a huge amount of effort into getting the best possible image
  • succeeds in consistently creating interesting images (that does not mean they never make a bad picture - just that their success rate is high)
I'm sure this is not an exhaustive list and I'd be very interested to know if you can add any other criteria that would help define a 'real photographer'. If we can find a definition it will help fellow photographers to know what they should be aiming for, or at least what it takes to be a 'real photographer'.

Till soon,

Update: The debate continues. See Juha Haataja's article on his blog Light Scrape and my response. If anyone has any further comments please post them here so we can continue the debate.


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