After class last weekend, I struck up a conversation with one of my students. During the conversation, she cautioned me: “But I’m not a photographer. Not really. I just take pictures.”
I asked her what she meant, and she said she couldn’t begin to compare herself to others out there, and that every time she got on Instagram she felt like she had so much to learn. “Those are photographers,” she told me. “I’m still learning. But maybe some day.”
I had to tell her the hard truth: “You already are a photographer.”
And it’s true. You are too.
The world of photography has traditionally built a lot of walls, and that’s true to this day. If you’ve spent time on internet comment sections, you’ll see a lot of people who say:
- You’re not a “real” photographer unless you shoot with X kind of camera.
- You can’t take anyone seriously unless they shoot manual mode.
- Shooting RAW is the only way.
- Zoom lenses are for amateurs.
- Film photographers are the only true artists.
- You can’t call yourself a photographer unless you know how to use frequency separation in skin editing and use complex multi-layer masks to bend reality to your will…
It seems ridiculous to have to say it, but this kind of mentality seeps into everyone at some point. As a high school teacher, there have been many students who have stopped themselves from reaching their true potential as a photographer because they had advice from YouTube telling them they didn’t have the right camera. I had to take a lot of time to convince them otherwise.
One of the most successful photographers I’ve ever had in class shot with a plastic camera with a kit lens, and she absolutely blew the socks off people around her photographing with $2000 cameras.
She had belief.
She was no more than 5 feet tall, but at a state championship game where a local “pro” was telling her she had to move for him, she put her elbows out and told him: “I’m a photographer too, go find your own spot” and showed him her media pass with the same word on it as his: “PHOTOGRAPHER.”
It was legendary.
So I’m asking you to find that inner voice, and just say it out loud: “I’m a photographer.”
It’s cheesy – I get it. You’re probably reading this saying it in your head, but you might not say it loud.
This world likes to hear your declarations. Our spoken words seep into the ground and the coalesce into the air around us. They become real.
So if it’s almost dinner time, and you’re serving plates, surprise your family by telling them: “I’m a photographer.”
If you’re out in the middle of a corn field, and there’s a few blackbirds keeping you company, tell them: “I’m a photographer.” Watch them bring those words to the sky.
If you’re at a class reunion and a someone asks you what you do, feel free to say: “I’m a photographer.”
You’ll say it like you believe it because you do.
And if you run into anyone who challenges you, don’t tell them anything. They’re obnoxious and not worth your time. Just keep clicking away, creating art, and making the world more beautiful one photo after another.