“Which of my photographs is my favourite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.” – Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976)
A big part of my life as a semi-freelancer these days seems to be social media. There’s no escape from Facewitter or Linkstergram or any number of new and exciting flavour-of-the-month social websites. As a photographer it’s no surprise that a lot of what I see online is photography related chit-chat. One of the age old discussions that goes round again and again is this: what is the difference between an amateur and a professional photographer?
I don’t like to get involved in online arguments about photography – I’d much rather be out making pictures, but I’ve seen this one so many times that I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject.
To me the only way I define the difference between a professional photographer and a non-professional photographer is this: A professional photographer takes photographs for financial reward. That’s it. There’s nothing to say that professionals are better photographers than hobbyists. In fact there are a great many hobbyists who produce really excellent work. I suspect the reason behind this is quite simple: they’re free to photograph the things they’re passionate about, while free from pressures of time and budget.
Of course, not everyone shares my views, and there are a certain class of “professional photographer” out there who like to suggest that they’ve got photography mastered. This is a view that really grates on me. Quite often the work showcased by some of these people can only be described as mediocre. Of course, the opposite type exist too – the very humble pros who know that they still need to learn and develop their skills.
So back to Imogen Cunningham’s favourite photograph. Photography is a journey and not a destination. We all have to start out somewhere and work from there. The trick is to make sure we keep ourselves stimulated and challenged. It’s not always easy to stay inspired, but we have to keep looking for opportunities for tomorrow’s photograph.
When you’re lacking inspiration and your creativity seems to have dried up there are a few ways to get yourself back on track.
Impose limits on yourself: maybe take less camera equipment with you when you go out – I like to take a walk with just a camera and a prime lens (i.e. a lens without zoom).
Create projects for yourself. Projects create rules and rules give you focus. If wildlife is your thing then maybe pick a single breed of bird or mammal and produce a collection of photographs. If you’re into landscapes then maybe decide on a project photographing local historic landmarks or modern high-rise buildings in a city centre. Projects can also be more abstract. Maybepick an emotion and take photographs to represent it. Think about how you might represent love or happiness, anger or contentment.
Wherever your photographic journey takes you, as long as you look forward to tomorrow’s photograph you’ll stay on the right track.