Am I a Photographer yet?

Self assessment after a year long journey through uncharted waters.

By definition the answer is simple: It’s yes. Well done. Have a chocolate.

The Chocolate Thief

So going with this definition everybody with the capability to take a picture is a photographer. That’s all right but for what I want to know though this definition is too broad to apply. This range would encompass casually taking pictures to producing a complete story in one exceptional photograph. But there is another twist: Who’s to say what is exceptional? Likes and comments on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media platform? A reviewer from a magazine? Family and friends? Another photographer from the definition above — so basically every other person?

I agree with John Hodgman when he says ‘You like what You like’. Not being born a narcissist it took practice, ego honing and the accumulation of more knowledge to be my own critic. I’m learning to stand by my photographic choices and more importantly (to me) I can explain why. But than it’s getting harder to separate truly helpful feedback from all the other crap you’re bombarded with. That’s what I have struggled the most and am still having a hard time with. It needs a group of trusted people. Enlisting people to this group isn’t easy and takes time but if you know these people you know the reason for their feedback and it’s worth every word they say.

Red Balloon

Aside from peoples likes and dislikes there is the practical side of photography. I’ve been taking pictures for quite a while. In the mentioned range above I fit squarely in the category of casually taking pictures. Mostly of dogs outside running free. Let’s call it nature photography (kind of) since I did not interfere with the dogs at all. This was mostly for me. I rarely did an assignment. Over the years I got better at framing my subjects, composition, catching certain expressions on purpose and post processing just by taking pictures without going much deeper or doing heavy research. This way I changed the position in my range of photographers. I wasn’t taking casual pictures depending on a lot of luck any more. As weather and sometimes moody subjects permitted I would set out to get certain pictures done and accomplish this task. A big step for me.

From there I wanted to do more without turning our current living situation inside out. Finding a suitable course was not easy. Most offline stuff didn’t spark my interest and online I found either courses that began teaching the one and only correct hand and finger position to press the silvery button on your expensive camera with or courses that made it seem you could only succeed if you basically knew already what to do. Nothing that fitted my presumed level of knowledge. Meanwhile I learned a lot from a diversity of YouTube tutorials but still wanted something with active feedback and a structured learning experience.

The search went on for some time and when I found another course I almost dismissed it again. It had the advantage of being specific about the necessities and where it was going but it seemed to me I lacked a lot of requirements — knowledge and hardware. So far I had not used lights, modifiers, stands, etc.. But this time I took my chances, enrolled in P52 Project, bought some stuff and went to work.

Chili Anatomy

The complete lack of knowledge about lighting setups and lighting equipment made it a rough start. But I got good feedback that suited my needs, reviewed my fellow colleagues work, did my homework and some more. Put together it was a steep learning curve for me. Also helpful was the fact that each assignment was kept as comparable as possible to real life work. In general it was commercial photography but the assignments were as diverse as portraiture and pack shots. The pressure was on.

Man Made Music

Not surprisingly as with all other things where you need to provide unique ideas having a unique idea that fit the subject matter and was also possible (for me) to implement was hard work. The ideas were not really the problem but my capabilities of translating my thoughts into a picture pushed my (technical/knowledge) boundaries every assignment. That was the way I worked through the fifty two assignments (plus some bonus ones).

Again as with all creative projects the process invoked being utterly frustrated and also soaring high above the clouds whenever hurdles were overcome. In the end I had the feeling I got a good routine going and the knowledge I acquired serves me well to build upon. So where am I now in the range of photographers mentioned at the beginning? From the feedback I got and my own opinion I definitely made a huge jump. I’m doing better at planning, photographing, analysing and post processing — just to mention some obvious parts I’ve gained some wisdom. Having the words of our teacher Don GIannatti in my head ‘Can this [picture] be shot by someone passing by with his phone?’ (I know, I know, phones have good cameras, but the meaning is still clear) I can gladly say No to most of what I’m setting out to picture nowadays.

That feels really good :-)

Not only my expertise was extended but also the range of what’s a photographer got updated during the fifty two weeks. There is no upper limit. That’s a good thing because there is no way you know it all. So learning never ends and you can always get better and have fun while at it.