Both in email discussions and on the web, I spend a non-trivial amount of time advising people on what cameras and lenses would be best for them. I firmly believe that the right camera for the job is highly dependent on the job, and I start out these discussions by asking
- What gear do you have now?
- Show me some images that you’ve made that you like.
- What are you thinking about getting?
- Show me some images that you’ve made that are similar to what you’d like to make with your new gear, but that are unsatisfying to you because of deficiencies in your old gear.
As an aside, it is remarkable to me how difficult it is to get people to show me the two sets of pictures.
In the middle of one of these discussions, I recently had an exchange on the ‘net, in which I expresses the point of view that cameras are tools to make photographs, and was met with a different perspective — that, if you’re not a pro, cameras are toys for hobbyists. The implication seemed to be that hobbyists are unserious about image-making. That didn’t, — and doesn’t — seem right to me. I’m going to explore that here. But first, a digression. The word “hobby” isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when I think about my relationship to photography. I checked the definition:
I don’t get paid for my photographs. I do it for the love of it. I am passionate about photography, and I am dedicated in my pursuit of it. Some people think the word “amateur” connotes a lack of expertise and commitment. That word rests easy on my head. However, the word “hobbyist” does not. Nevertheless, the denotative part of the definition fits, and in this context, there is little difference between the words “hobbyist” and “amateur”.
Photography is indeed my hobby. I’ll just have to make my peace with it. But I am dead serious about making images. I work at photography nearly every day. I work is series that span two to four years. I exhibit images. I have a web site with galleries. I have published an offset-printed book. I give images to people who make contributions to charities that I favor (I do this in preference to selling the images, since I don’t need the small amount of money that I would make through sales).
I’ve done photography for money. Now I do it for nothing but the love of it. If anything I am more serious about what I do for free than what I used to do for – admittedly, not much – money.
Most of the local photographers I know don’t make their living through photography, although they may sell prints from time to time. I’d guess I’ve spent time with a couple of hundred photographers through the two local organizations to which I belong: ImageMakers and the Center for Photographic Art. Of those, a couple of dozen make their living through photography. The rest are amateurs, or – though many, like me, would bridle at the word – hobbyists. As a group, the people who make images for the love of it are no less passionate and dedicated than those who put bread on the table through their photography.
Is the universe of amateur photographers who participate in Internet fora dramatically different from the group that I know in the real world? I’m sure some differences exist. You have to apply to ImageMakers, and acceptance is dependent on your photographic chops. Anybody can join the CPA, but signing up requires an interest in some aspect of photographic art. But I’m having trouble thinking that the Internet world is turned upside down. Are the ‘net denizens as a group more interested in playing with shiny toys than in making images? I guess it’s possible, but I find the thought depressing.
I am more passionate about the process than about the result, personally.
I love using manual focus on older SLRs (with good focusing screens) over autofocus or even manual focus on mirrorless because of the connection I feel with the scene; I simply don’t have to think about focusing anymore, with all of my attention devoted to composing. I find composition more enjoyable than wrestling with focusing systems.
I would carry my Hasseblad around and shoot it even without film loaded because it’s fun. In fact, when I have film loaded it’s almost less fun to use because of the feeling that I’m wasting something, and the dread of having to process it.
But at the same time I do care about results, and I care enough that I write my own raw processing software to make it quick and easy to achieve the results I want.
I shoot very often, but not every day. (Lots of other hobbies.) But when I do shoot, I exercise maximum shot discipline.
I don’t have the discipline to start any multi-year photo series, except a few I started out on a whim and just continue because it’s entertaining.
What do you think?
You are welcome to enjoy photography any way you want, but if you haven’t worked in series, you are missing an experience that could have great benefits for your photography.
Lewis L says
Just discovered your site and learnt a lot from your articles.
Having taken up the ‘hobby’ of photography in digital age, I viewed images on screens with pixels too large for human eyes. I was shocked during the first time encountering a museum-quality printed photograph.
I wish to learn more about the art of printing now and found that you use Epson printers. What current film scanner and printer models do you recommend for printing monochrome films? (A3 size or smaller / each under $1,000)
Thank you and much appreciated.
Printer: Epson P800, P600. Start with the Epson inks and their Advanced B&W settings. If that isn’t enough, get a RIP and start experimenting with monochrome inks.
Scanner: I’d start out with scans from a reputable service bureau. If you find one you like, you can try to duplicate what they did, but be prepared to spend a lot of time and energy if you’re not willing to go above a kilobuck for the scanner.
Lewis L says
Thank you very much for the recommendations.
Mike Nelson Pedde says
One thing that has always intrigued me is the origin of words, and as corollary, how far they drift from their original designations. As someone who is left-handed, I suppose I could take offense to people’s reactions to the word sinister when it means, “Of, or related to the left.”
Amateur is another one of those words. From the Latin Amare (http://latindictionary.wikidot.com/verb:amare), it means to love one’s course of action. The idea that amateurs are untalented idiots is entirely contrived. There are amateur musicians, archaeologists, astronomers, dancers… who are at least if not more talented than their paid counterparts, but the illusion persists than anyone who’s any good gets money for it.
An expert is someone who knows what s/he is doing. A professional is someone who gets paid for what s/he is doing. And an amateur is someone who loves what s/he is doing. Not all professionals are experts, but all of the best professionals are amateurs. 🙂