Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In Praise of Hobbyists

I love looking at the work of hobby photographers. Some of the best photographs I see are snapped by people who don't make their livings with cameras in their hands. They simply love shooting photos and that love shows in their work, whether they're shooting pretty girls or most anything else.

I don't like using the word "amateur" when I refer to hobby photographers. Amateur has a connotation to it which infers a photographer is less skilled than a professional. Often, I find that's not the case. Not even close. I regularly see work by hobbyists which, frankly, trumps the work of many professionals. If someone is a professional photographer, it doesn't necessarily follow that they are also a highly skilled photographer. Often enough, and as professionals, what they're truly skilled at doing is making a living from photography. Making great pictures is not an absolute requirement for being a pro. It certainly helps, but it's not always a make or break kind of thing.

It probably comes as no surprise when I say that knowing how to make a living from something, and knowing how to do that something really well, perhaps exceedingly well, are two things which often (and should) go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, I've seen plenty of examples illustrating how tenuous the relationship between photographic skill and skill at making a living shooting pictures might be. I'm not saying the work of many pros sucks. It doesn't. There are plenty of pros making great pictures while, at the same time, they're making great livings from photography. But making great pictures is not an absolute requirement for being a professional photographer. Being a terrific sales person, marketer, networker, schmoozer, even being a great liar and bullshit artist are often the keys to being a pro. Example-- Look at the wedding photography biz. There are certainly people making good money shooting weddings whose work leaves more than a little bit to be desired.

One of the big differences between hobbyists and pros is hobbyists have the freedom to shoot what they want and how they want to shoot it. Pros, on the other hand, are hamstringed by clients. More specifically, the hamstringing is of a creative nature. No one hires me, for instance, to shoot whatever I want however I want to shoot it. They hire me to shoot what they want and what they want usually dictates how I'll shoot it.

A lot of hobbyists dream of becoming pros. Nothing wrong with that. It can certainly be fun and rewarding. But if those same people think that going pro means they'll have the same photographic freedoms they have as hobbyists, they're wrong and they won't. Course, any pro can simultaneously be a hobbyist. But I've noticed, and I include myself in this group, more than a few pros are less inclined or less motivated to go out and shoot as if they're hobbyists. It's not that they don't love photography. Most of them do. Perhaps it's because when photography is your job, that is, it's work, it seems like going out and doing it simply for the sake of doing it also seems like work? Unpaid work at that.

Even when I'm shooting for myself, I can't help doing so with a mind-set that I may be able to make some money with whatever it is I'm shooting. That thought also hamstrings me, albeit to a much lesser extent then when I'm working for clients. Why? Because I know if I'm going to sell what I'm shooting for myself, I'll likely be selling it to the same sorts of people who are my clients. Those people will also have the same or similar expectations for the images that my clients do and those expectations will hamstring my approach to that "hobby" work.

BTW, this post isn't me complaining. I'm just saying how things are. Leastwise, in my opinion. It's true that I do envy hobbyists but, at the same time, being a hobbyist would mean I'd have to be making a living doing something other than making it with cameras in my hands. I don't find that thought very appealing. If it sounds to you like I want my cake and eat it too, you're absolutely right. But then, who doesn't?

The pretty girl at the top is Celeste. Besides being my model for a few hours when I snapped the pic, she's also a Penthouse Pet. You can click the pic to enlarge it.

No comments: