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I overheard a conversation the other day where one person said to the other, “Anyone can be a photographer today!” He went on to explain how in the film days you really needed to know your stuff. Film limited how many images you could make, and the darkroom required technical skill to achieve good results. Now anyone with a digital camera can shoot thousands of images and choose the best ones from the bunch, apply some presets in Photoshop, and presto, great results.

But is it really that simple or easy? And more importantly is that the point of photography? To make great images regardless of how you achieve the results? How do we define “great,” the most popular? The highest number of likes on Facebook or Flickr? Is great more important than original or personal?

There are those that say original images are all but impossible to make today. I have two thoughts on that.

First, I think that’s a way to avoid the fear of failure, the very real possibility that the images you make may not work. Or others won’t like them and let you know they don’t. It’s the equivalent of being booed off the stage, and who likes that.

Second, I think the question is meaningless and distracts from the real question. Do you have something to say, to contribute, to add to the world that will deliver value or make a difference, regardless of how small? Surely that can’t be measured and as long as we retain our individuality, there will always be original images.

But to have any chance of making original images, you must consider why you photograph and what it is you want to convey. Maybe that’s simply a beautiful vista. Or perhaps it’s a unique and dramatic moment in nature. Or perhaps the way the ocean moves you emotionally to consider the meaning of life and what your purpose is.

Whichever of those it is, rapid-fire shooting and presets is not going to get you there. That’s not to say you won’t get lucky and make a meaningful image that way. But the only way to achieve success and move yourself forward as a photographer is by careful consideration of composition, image design, light, and a keen sense of awareness, both of the environment and your response to it.

These are all skills that have to be learned, practiced, and used with sensitivity. When do you break the rules? When you know that breaking them makes a better image. That also takes lots of practice, and failure.

I love Seth Godin’s recent post about bouncing forward. We often get too focused on recovering from failure, but Seth suggests that instead of bouncing back, we bounce forward. That puts us on a better path than the one we started on.
None of this is predicated on the equipment or software we use, or how easy technology allows us to make a good exposure.

It’s about the creative path you choose to follow. Sure, anyone can do that, as long as you commit to being yourself instead of following others.

RR Jr

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This Post Has 9 Comments
  1. I hear this a lot and been around the debate from photographers vs non-photographers which results in anger and resentment. “But is it really that simple or easy?” The simplicity of this question answered by “These are all skills that have to be learned, practiced, and used with sensitivity” sums up the debate for me.

  2. Amen to that!
    If “anyone can be a photographer”, than I’ve got a lot to demonstrate to myself, learning to do, and growth to find, until I can be convinced that I’m “anyone”.

    Thanks!

  3. Robert, I discovered you on a video from B&H. You represent what I aspire to as a beginning photographer. I am in my mid-sixties and I see photography as being a poet using light, image and my soul and the voice of God as my teacher. I view photography as an expression of love. I think it is silly to trivialize this art because of digital tools. Does writing a great poem become less meaningful because it is written on a computer with spell check then using pen and paper? I think not!

    1. Thanks for the feedback Sidney, and for sharing your perspective. Yes I agree that the tools shouldn’t make a difference if the artists has something worthwhile to say or share. The tools are much easier to use today than ever before, that is a fact we can not ignore, so more people can potentially create. But whether that makes better art or simply more art is the real question which I think you have answered.

      RR

  4. I had a gallery with my wife about 5 years ago in Norfolk, VA. During an opening, a couple came in and checked out all my work and gave their complements and left. I was near the entry when I heard a quick conversation. He said, “You know, I could do that” and she said “But honey, you need to have talent”.

    1. Hi Bob, thanks for the comment and sharing that story. Yes that’s great, though talent will only get you so far. Every artistic “genius” worked their tails off to achieve what they did in their lifetimes. There’s no overnight success, and as they say 90% of success is showing up every day. For a great read on this, check out Daily Rituals: How Artists Work which gives you a sense of hard talented artists work.

      I’m not refuting the importance of talent, but I think many give it more credit that it deserves.

      RR

  5. Glad I discovered your site recently Robert and appreciate the videos you have done on printing, mounting, matting work.
    Last year I decided jump into the art show arena and doing shows you get to talk with lots of folks about your work. From “you do great work” to “yeah I have done the same thing myself” (or that effect). It has actually taught (or maybe forced) me to consciously forget all outside distractions when out in the field trying to create. That I first am doing this for myself and not for others approval. Many photographers simply attempt to do what has already been done so they can say, “see I can do that”. Which to me is meaningless. To be ourselves is the only path to true creativity, understanding, and appreciation.
    Artists of every kind could learn from the Seth Godin’s post you referenced. Thanks for sharing that as well.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Brad, appreciate it. I did art fairs for 5 years, so I’m all too familiar with that environment and the wide range of responses you get. It does teach you to have a thick skin and question your confidence level – but I think it’s a great learning experience. Best of luck with them. I’d also add “fulfillment” to your list of the things we can achieve when we’re not afraid to follow our inner voice.

      RR

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