BitDepth 748 - September 14

Another look at the difference between professionals and amateurs in photography in an age of digital capture.
Professionals versus amateurs

Landscape photo captured on a Rollei 6008 on Kodak Ektachrome.
Photo courtesy

One of the silliest and most pointless discussions to rage back and forth in the heated realm of photography these days is the argument about what constitutes a professional photographer.
Dictionaries describe professionals as a practitioner who has acquired special skill in or knowledge and mastery in a particular field. Amateurs, on the other hand, are those who pursue their work in a particular field for pleasure rather than for payment.
And that’s it. When it comes to photography, it’s pretty clear that being an amateur is significantly more fun than being a professional, as any pro who has had an unsatisfying experience with a particularly bad client can attest.

For the purposes of photography, let’s describe a professional as a practitioner of the craft who can deliver, on demand, the requirements of a commercial commission or employment profile and an amateur as a picture maker who sets their own satisfaction level for the images they create.
By that yardstick, it’s fair to describe a surprising number of the professional photographers in the local business as barely meeting the requirements of the description. Conversely, there is a growing movement among amateurs to raise the generally accepted level of satisfaction associated with their photography, often through peer review.

In short, then, the distinction between a professional and an amateur is even muddier than might be imagined from looking at the photographs they produce. 
I’m pretty clear in my own head about the qualities that define a professional photographer, but to get the perspective of an amateur committed to quality photography, I turned to R; the author of the quite remarkable landscapes on R’s had some interesting experiences with today’s amateurs and professionals in the making that have led him to choose anonymity at every opportunity.
We first crossed perspectives in a television segment (, and have corresponded regularly ever since on matters related to photography locally.

R, an amateur photographer for the last 28 years, still prefers to shoot large format film, which he processes and scans. His opinions are sharp, considered and often quite polarising. On photographers who shoot landscapes with digital cameras, he notes that they “recreate pictures they have seen on the Internet without any appreciation for the grand landscape sitting in front of them.”
“Digital images are the new photographers’ MP3 files: bit-perfect, innumerable facsimiles of something infinitely more grand.”
“I can, and have, offered advice about the philosophy of photography. Why we photograph a landscape, how a photographer should seek to confer an appreciation for the landscape in a viewer, how a scene that really means something to a photographer can transcend any deficiencies in technique when viewed.” R wrote in response to an e-mailed question.

“But no one wants to hear about those things. What can I say therefore? Be honest in your photography. Love your subject so that others can sense that in your pictures. Make your pictures your own way. They are, after all, your pictures.”
R’s perspectives are often severe, but they’re always engaging and eminently worth considering. Read his full response to my questions

In considering the difference between professional and amateur status, then, the notion of good photography hardly applies. There are lousy professionals and exceptional amateurs and amateurishness, the word so casually used to tar the unprofessional practitioner, is hardly constrained in either case.
Better then to admire passion in the pursuit of a vision, something that’s all too rare in the craft of photography as a blizzard of pixels threatens to drown us all in meaningless reproductions of life poorly seen.

All of R's responses to my e-mailed questions
are here...
BitDepth 750 -
This Photographer's Way
BitDepth 749 -
The Copyright Condom
BitDepth 747 -
The digital photographer's workflow
BitDepth 746 -
An ode to good glass
BitDepth 745 -
Your new digital camera
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