A recurring theme I see in many photography magazines are articles on making the leap from hobbyist to professional photographer. I understand most of us would like to make a few bucks to cover the cost of new equipment or programs, it is a spendy hobby, after all, so at some point or another we all play with the idea of marketing ourselves and/or our images... but I end up feeling a little bit sad when I see how some of these articles are written. They make it all sound so easy; but the fact is not everyone is cut out to go into business. I feel like our society is too quick to equate every skill to a dollar value, and if you don't charge money then it must be because you don't have enough skill to do so. The person with a business card must obviously be the better photographer/artist/name-that-skill, right? Yet we've all seen those photographs on the walls of local businesses that are appallingly dismal because all someone could think of was making money way before they had real photography skills. Then there's the senior portraits that are so unflattering or poorly executed that you just want to cry for the victim... um, client. If you've just started photography, or even if you've enjoyed it for awhile, please go find someone that will be truly honest with you, and show them some of your work. What they say may hurt your feelings, but please do. Contrast that with what you can find on Flickr: some of the most amazing things ever done by someone's mom or grandpa and it's 'just a hobby'. I think more of us need to free our minds from the push to value everything in dollars. You can enjoy photography as a hobby and it's ok to be 'just' a hobbyist and never feel pressured to break out in a career. It will also help you far more in the long run to concentrate on artistic skills than on doing business. I'll tell you what, when you start worrying about making money with whatever your interests are, that's what it is, worry. Most of us don't need more of that in our lives, and when you take your hobby, the thing you do for fun and a break, and you have to do it to someone else's expectations and demands it changes a vital element of that enjoyment. If you are the type of person that likes those challenges, that's great, but if you're not someone that enjoys strife you are not less of a person, or less skilled as a photographer, you are just smart enough to know yourself and not ruin what you love by twisting it into yet another sacrifice to Mammon. Understand, I'm not discouraging anyone from following their dream of being a paid photographer (unless they seriously need some more skills and understanding of the principles of design). I do think those magazine articles fill a need because they are usually pretty honest about how hard a job it really is and what it really takes to be a professional photographer. Those articles often give people who honestly have that drive a good starting place to build their future. They also give the rest of us a renewed respect for the designers of the photos and films we see in the media, and the amount of forethought that goes into even the smallest elements of those designs. Personally I love the 'behind the scenes' shots because that is when you realize how many lights and reflectors are involved in deceptively simple looking photographs, as well as the hours of photoshop work. Far from thinking that photographers are some of the most overpaid professionals ever as some (not photography) magazines claim, the more you become aware of all the work those individuals and teams do outside of that 8-16 hours that they're on their feet being polite and professional in sometimes very unfavorable conditions, the higher your respect for their skill level and work ethic rises. But you don't have to be a paid photographer to be a good photographer. Respect yourself outside of the dollar signs. The best value is your ability to bring joy to others, as well as yourself.
I recently saw a quote that stated "the best photographer is not as smart as the simplest camera'. Someone no doubt has another opinion on this subject-and if so I'll be glad to hear it-but I found this quote offensive and belittling. A camera is a tool, nothing more, no matter what it cost. It doesn't think, it doesn't create, it does what it's designed to do in whatever direction it is pointed. People made cameras, not the other way around. To elevate the tool above the maker is the height of foolishness. It also contributes to a helpless attitude in purchasers and users. "The camera says I can't take this picture" shouldn't be a final and defeatist statement signifying failure, it should be the beginning statement to the thought process of 'how can I bend this tool to my will to express my vision?' In the end, a camera is an expensive paintbrush that helps us duplicate images in our lives, and share our inner vision. It helps us to let others see the world as we see it. To allow the defeatists who worship their cameras to control our creative process is a great loss of potential artistry. People are smarter than their tools. No one says 'I don't draw well because I don't understand this pencil.' No. They say they don't know how to draw, and if they want to learn they either take a class or they buy a book and then they practice. Some years ago I purchased the book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards, and that book teaches that drawing is not a matter of the physical skill of pointing a pencil at a piece of paper, but of learning how to 'see' and duplicate our vision to paper. Wait a minute... That sounds just like what we do with our cameras, huh? Learn how it works, one function at a time. Then push those functions, and when a tough lighting situation comes up, you'll know what your tool can do, rather than letting it tell you what it wants to do. I shoot exclusively manual on my highly intelligent automated tool. Why? Because I'm smarter than it is, and the way it sees doesn't match the way I see, and it's not the boss of me. 🙂 This was a simple picture, simply done from the roadside during a pitstop, but the 'first draft' without a polarizing lens and with the camera settings on auto was flat and lifeless, and taken at a really flat time of day, 1 in the afternoon, a light I really hate. Between the polarizer and some dark room work, it becomes a nice picture that reminds me of a good long roadtrip with friends.
Photographers have a saying: The most important part of a camera is the 12 inches behind it. That's right. The most important part of your camera is you. This does not mean that everything that goes wrong is your fault. Cameras are machines and have limitations. They can't capture the things that the human eye can. The point of the quote, however, is to remind you that you don't have to have the best and brightest equipment to make truly good photographs of your family, friends, and surroundings. If you fall in love with photography the way I have you may eventually invest in a dSLR, but until you do so there is no reason you can't capture many of your family's important moments. That's what this blog is about. I've been taking pictures of any willing victim (and some unwilling) for many years, and I'd like to share a little of what I've learned with you to help you take the best picture possible to capture your memories. My intent is to keep this simple and understandable, as well as eminently 'doable' so that you're not overwhelmed with technical jargon, but do come away with a better understanding of what you can do and why. I will suggest ways to improve your photography by helping you to learn to pay attention to the way the light falls on your subject, the angle you take your picture at, and share what I can about how to fix the photos that weren't as good as they could be. I'll also share some tips about various types of software out there, some of which are free! I welcome your questions, comments, and feedback. My intent is to help, to teach, and to have a little fun doing it. Welcome to The Camera Mom... even if you're a Dad!