Recently I have had a couple of lucky breaks in the photography arena. That is, I’ve been in the right place at the right time and got some shots that surprised me. Here’s one of them. I was driving through the country and saw a bird on a limb. I stopped, dropped the window, grabbed my camera, and as I was getting ready to shoot, he took off. This is the result. For those who are keeping track of the numbers, this was in aperture priority mode, f/7.1, which gave me a shutter speed of 1/500 at ISO 100. I had previously selected a full stop of exposure compensation. This is a crop, by the way.
I really like this picture, but that’s not what this post is about. You see, in the course of passing this around, I’ve had an interesting series of conversations.
When I show a really good shot to someone I usually get the response that’s so common it’s almost a joke: “Wow, that’s a great shot, you must have a really good camera!” That’s a bit like telling the Cake Lady, “Wow, that’s the best cupcake I ever had—you must have a really good oven!” But the next response is the one that bothers me—“you shoot like a professional!”
No, I don’t. I shoot like an amateur. There’s a line, and I’m not interested in crossing that line. Here’s why:
First of all, I’ve gotten to the point where, when I point my camera at something and push the button, I am reasonably sure what’s going to happen. But I’m not EXACTLY sure—and that’s the key difference between me and those whose living is photography. Take, for example, Naomi Weber—when Naomi pushes the button, she knows exactly what’s going to happen, because this is what she does. When my son was born, I took two hundred shots in 24 hours; a couple of them are hanging in my “gallery” even now. But when the time came to get the real pictures, I hit www.naomiweber.com and never looked back. Why? Consider the baking analogy again: my wife makes cakes. She makes the best cakes within three hundred miles. But when she needs bread, she goes to the bread guy. Naomi shoots newborns, and she’s the best at it. When you need a specialist, you go to a specialist. That’s how I feel about pictures. If it’s not critical, I’ll shoot it myself; if I absolutely have to have it, I will go to the pros. I’m an amateur.
Second, as I said in my first post, I REALLY love taking pictures. This winter, I’ve spent a good bit of time standing out in the cold waiting for that one good shot so that I could see it on the screen and admire it as something I’d created. That’s enough for me to justify the cost of my equipment and the time I put into the craft. But one thing I’ve learned about business is that the vast majority of the business owner’s time is put into tasks OTHER THAN the fun stuff. The successful pro photographer spends easily more than half of his or her time doing things other than shooting. Heck, I don’t even like post-processing, let alone trying to market, print, package, frame, design, study…you get the picture, right? I don’t want that kind of pressure. That’s pro stuff. I want to shoot. I’m an amateur.
Finally, “professional” isn’t necessarily about the quality of the work. I take the occasional good picture, but I have a day job, I add value at my day job, and that’s how I make my living. That suits me well. But I know people who have taken the art of photography to the next level, and who have decided to feed their families with the fruits of their labors. For me to take on portrait work or (God forbid) event work would be to take money out of a market to which those folks are dedicated. That’s not where I belong, not because I’m not good enough (I’m not) but because that’s not what I decided to do with my life. In that sense especially, I’m an amateur.
Listen—I believe that someone who’s “always an amateur” can take some really good shots. I plan to keep shooting, and hope to keep getting better; sometimes you will see images with my name on them that you might consider to be “professional” in quality. So you show up at my blog or my facebook page wanting to buy a print? We can make an arrangement—I’m always looking to trade. But when you want me to take pictures of your child, your party, your wedding…I can provide you the names of some people who will manage that task much better than I will. They’re the professionals. I’m… yeah, I know, you get the picture!