Musings on becoming a real photographer

Who, what me? A photographer. Yea right, I thought to myself as I sipped down my second glass of wine. I was sitting with my good friend who had begun taking online classes from the New York Institute of Photography.  She did landscape and wanted to…hmmm…I am not sure what she wanted to do now that I think about it. She probably told me, but I was probably knockin’ back my third glass of wine before she got to that part.

She showed me some of her work and told me about the classes she was taking and her weekly assignments. It was all very fascinating to me. From what I recall she was pretty good even back then.

What struck me was this;  she was spending money and doing remote instruction to do something she loved to do.  When I thought of when I was in college, I was doing it because I had to…how else was I going to get ahead in this world? I mean I enjoyed my subjects for the most part, but I was actually there because I thought that is what one was supposed to do after high school.  It never occurred to me to go to college to simply enrich my life.

Several weeks later, I was still pawing at this idea of photography. I mean I had always loved it. I had always been in awe of images that made you stop and look. To feel. To cry. To think about that image long after you had stopped looking at it. I was in awe of the person who could create that. I wondered if I could go to school and actually try to make a living at it? I mean, my friend was going, why couldn’t I?

I lived in San Francisco at this time which was, I must admit, many MANY moons ago. I was making good money at my job and thought why don’t I take some of the money and enroll at the Academy of Art College? Its now the Academy of Art University. I jumped in with both feet. My mom bought me a Minolta as a surprise present… film camera…these were the film days in case you were wondering and on film is how I learned. I learned the hard way in comparison to today. I learned that it was expensive to make mistakes, you couldn’t just delete and start over. A light meter was a must as you couldn’t just guess at exposures because then you wasted film, wasted time in a dark room, wasted paper and well just got yourself into a tizzy over missing the shot.

Speaking of light meters, back in “the day” whatever that really means, I had to understand light, light temperatures, directional light, light color and how to shoot–in manual–with correct exposures. Today’s technology is much easier…the cameras are amazingly sophisticated, but the education I got in learning…really learning to shoot…is invaluable even in today’s amazing digital world.

After many many invaluable classes and amazing instructors who were actually working in the real world as professional photographers, I started out to build a business. I did weddings here and there. Some for free, some for minimal costs while I built a portfolio. Some were great, some were not. I cut my teeth on the fast paced life of weddings. I failed miserably at the business end. I didn’t know how to run a business! Who would have thought that being a photographer was more than taking pictures????

Looking back, my first websites were terrible. My marketing skills were all but nonexistent. I floundered for years.

I didn’t just flounder trying to run a business and be successful at it, I floundered in what it was I wanted to photograph. I floundered when it came to crossing over to digital.  I fought the digital revolution tooth and nail. I felt it wasn’t art. I felt the panic of no more darkrooms.

Eventually I embraced it and being in it now for many years, I love it. An actual darkroom has become a virtual darkroom and so much beauty can come out of this. I truly feel like one of the luckiest people since I actually learned the camera craft and understand what all the buttons on a camera do. I feel lucky to have spent hours in a darkroom, I feel lucky to have been able to develop my own negatives. I feel lucky to know what developer is, fix is, what stop bath is and how to manipulate the time negative stays in these chemicals to change the construct of the finished negative image.

Wow, that last paragraph brought back memories!!! It is true that I really do feel lucky to have had an amazing education, that enriched my life beyond measure.  I think back to that time many years ago, sipping wine, musing over how my friend took online courses and how that really prompted me to find out more about photography.  That moment was instrumental in who I am today.

Well, at present time, I have found what I love to shoot; birth photography and beauty portraits. I will explain my version of beauty portraits in the next blog post.  I am a better business person, but always have room to grow. I will also attempt to explain what goes into a photography business on another blog post.  For now, I wanted to explain how it is I became a photographer.

If you made it to the end of this blog post, I commend you…lots of words…too many for a photographers blog, but hey, that’s how I roll I guess.


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2 Responses to Musings on becoming a real photographer

  1. Boris says:

    Great post! Being a “real” photographer, what do you think of advancements in cameras in smart phones. Can one be a “real” photographer with an iPhone 6 or the latest Samsung smartphone?

  2. leona says:

    Great question! I think these smart phones can be great for the every day person who wants to take a picture. The amount of megapixels these Smartphones have is incredible. While the Apple iPhone 6 only has 8 MP, far less than the Samsung Galaxy S5 16 MP camera or the 20 MP Sony Xperia Z3, that doesn’t make it an inferior product…MP isn’t everything. In fact the more information packed onto a tiny sensor, there is far more room for problems like diffraction and ghosting. There are other things to consider with these iPhones like how well the camera phone exposes for light and color.

    These cameras are so superior today that I have actually seen online courses “making images with your smartphone”. It’s amazing really. I use mine on a near daily basis to capture my growing son and my adorable (and quite nutty!) beagle. They are convenient…far more so than lugging my Canon around.

    However, an iPhone is not going to give me the quality, clarity and file size my Canon will. But having a big fancy camera doesn’t make me a “real” photographer either. Anyone can buy one. My friend’s 10 year old son has a Nikon and he can get some fabulous shots…even professional level shots. The sophistication is unreal. These cameras can do everything for you!

    I think being a “real” photographer is partially being able to make a living taking pictures, knowing how to run a business, having a business plan, marketing, advertising, knowing your vendors, knowing your cost of goods and pricing accordingly and paying taxes on your work. It’s also knowing the computer, the software involved in editing, the hours it takes (contrary to what many people may think, its not just an Instagram filter) to hand edit. All the awesome software in the world, the best camera in the world is not going to help if you do not understand light, color theory and composition. A photographer needs to know how to expose correctly…and that doesn’t mean to stick it in “auto”. A photographer needs to know how to use the instrument in a way to create dynamic images in camera before they ever touch a computer and editing software.

    The final piece of the puzzle is consistency. Can a photographer take an amazing image…and replicate it…again and again. Can the photographer have an image in his or her head and know how to light it, how to compose it immediately…not leaving it to chance and hope they get the shot.

    In no way is any of this to be misconstrued as snooty…as anyone I know can attest…I am the last in line for that title. lol! I am always learning. I am always shooting.

    So can someone be a “real” photographer using just a smartphone? Can a person take amazing images with them? Sure. Can one replicate great images with them? Sure Can someone make a business with one? Sure. For me, a smartphone is not my instrument of choice. For me, I need to control aperture, shutter speed and ISO as these are vital pieces in creating dynamic images. Yet, who is to say the smartphone is not somebody else’s instrument of choice? There is room for everybody. 🙂

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