I’m a little different than many of the instructors here at The Photographer’s Element: I am not a professional photographer, nor have I ever been. In fact, like many of you may be, I am a happy hobbyist with no plans or intentions to ever own a photography business. However, I’ve come to feel that just because my professional background is in accounting and most of what I write here will be related to business, that doesn’t mean I have nothing to say on the subject of photography. Here are two of my biggest regrets as a hobbyist that I hope you can avoid:
1. Being afraid to call myself a photographer
Honestly this is still something that I struggle with a tiny bit. Photography can be such a daunting thing, a mixture of science and art and expression unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. And there is such an immense amount to learn, from the technical side of exposure and composition and light, to how to incorporate the artful elements of emotion and connection to the viewer. Not to mention there are so many different fields and types of photography: landscape, portrait, food, documentary, etc… The list goes on an on, a seemingly endless and infinite amount to learn all grouped under this one umbrella label of “photography.”
I admit I spent a long time kind of overwhelmed. How could I call myself a photographer when there was just so much to learn, and when there were so many more talented photographers out there so much further down their paths than I was down mine? I felt like I had no claim to the label, especially since no one is paying me for photographs.
However, the more I think about it, the sillier that seems to me. What really makes someone a photographer? Is it just that someone is paying you to take a picture? Is there some magic threshold you cross where one minute you’re not a photographer, and the next you are? I don’t think so. To me, I feel that a photographer is someone who is able to share their unique perspective, the beauty and vision and emotion they want to convey, through the medium of a photograph. If you can do that, even if your efforts are sometimes imperfect, I think you are a photographer.
Once I claimed that label as my own, I have been amazed at the difference in how I feel. I am more comfortable doing crazy things without shame like lying on my belly or climbing up onto a stool just to get a shot. I don’t mind carrying my camera places where many people wouldn’t (like hiking 3000 feet up a mountain or onto a speedboat – yes, I did those both just within the last week!). After all, I’m going to work to get the picture I want: I am a photographer.
2. Not investing in my photography skills sooner
Oh, how I wish I had given myself permission to invest in my skills as a photographer much earlier! I feel like this is related to my first issue: Since I never saw myself as a photographer and I wasn’t going to become a professional, I didn’t feel like I had the “right” to squander my hard-earned cash on photography.
For literally years I did everything I could to learn about photography except take a class. I checked out books from the library and read them. I scoured online photography blogs hoping to piece together the essential information I needed. I looked at the work of photographers I admired and tried to understand why the images were so compelling. While I made some small improvements, it came in a way that was tedious and agonizingly slow. I never felt like I was really progressing in the way I hoped.
Finally I got up the courage to take my first photography class, only because it was offered for just $49. (Yup, it was Mastering Manual!) And I was completely amazed by the difference that having a set of guided, easy-to-understand lessons made in my work. As I have continued to take more courses, I have felt a complete change in my work and in my own abilities. I look back on the priceless moments that I photographed with mediocre skills and sigh. I certainly don’t feel like I have everything mastered now (I wish!) but I do feel like I have a much better and more complete understanding of how to convey what I want to communicate in my photography. If only I had known what I would get in return for my small investment in photography courses, I would have made the purchase much, much earlier.
I suppose both of my biggest regrets as a hobbyist both boil down to the same thing: a lack of confidence. I didn’t have confidence in my own abilities and I let that hold me back from investing in my skills and from being the photographer that I could be for a long time. Don’t let that happen to you! If you have passion, commitment, and dedication to this craft, own it, even if no one is paying you to take their picture.
Claim the title of photographer, invest in your own skills, and never look back.
Her best adventures always happen with her handsome husband, her kindergartener who is too smart for his own good (or hers!), her brave toddler who seems to have no fear whatsoever, and her brand new baby girl. She loves photography and how it allows her to capture all her adventures, big and small, and to keep them forever. In order to fund her love of all things photography, she works part-time from home as a CPA.
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