• What makes you a photographer?

    The title of this blog might seem rather contrite but it stems from an article I read elsewhere on the internet entitled “Buying a DSLR doesn’t make you a photographer” and this made me wonder…. What does make you a photographer? It seems obvious that it can’t be just kit, but obviously some people think it is…

    Over the past 10 years, the availability of good quality camera equipment to everyday consumers has grown almost exponentially. A decade ago, all the way back in 2001, the best digital SLRs you could buy where the Canon EOS-1D and the Nikon D1X or D1H. Top of the pixel tree was the D1X with it’s 5.3 megapixel CCD sensor although the Canon and the D1H did have ISO which could be pushed all the way up to 1600.

    These cameras had 2” screens and not a lot else yet the EOS-1D would have set you back $7,000 (US) and the D1X and D1H cost $5,500 and $4,500 respectively. In today’s money that’s the equivalent of £5,500 for the Canon.

    If you go out and buy a £50 digital camera today, let alone a £5,500 one, you’ll get better headline specs than that. But which made the better pictures? I’ll bet it was the “old” SLRs and not the horrid cheap plastic box with the retractable lens.

    But spend £150 and learn how to use your camera and I reckon anyone can get good results.

    There is, of course, a caveat to this. If you have a camera, irrespective of the type, and you take photos but you don’t control the basic exposure settings yourself. is it your photo? Or is it the cameras?

    Have you relied on the electronic brain inside your camera to work it all out, take an arithmetic average and fire the shutter? If you did, is it your picture?

    In my book it’s not your photo if you let the camera do the thinking. It’s the programmers who made the processor inside the camera who decided what that photo should look like, not you.

    We should decide how a photograph should look and we select the appropriate aperture, or shutter speed, or sensitivity to achieve a predetermined product.

    This is what the author of the other article I mentioned was talking about. Millions of people are buying DSLRs now and fewer and fewer people are learning to use them. Unit sales go up, the number of real photographers decreases.

    I’ve been to wildlife centres, airshows, zoos and museums and I’ve seen people using camera and lens combinations which cost more money than all the pSquared equipment put together, and they’re shooting in Auto mode!

    So here’s the rub. Does equipment make you a photographer? No. But learning how to use your equipment so that you can dictate the look of the final photograph does. That’s what photography is about. As the old adage goes: it’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it.


    To illustrate my point that kit doesn't make the photographer check out this photo taken by António Leão which he took using a £300 Samsun EX1 compact. It's shot in shutter priority mode and I think this illustrates why taking control of you camera is so key...

    You should also check out more of António's work at his 500px.com page


    • 1. Oct 25 2011 11:30AM by Gill Langridge

      So true, I was taking photos for years before I learned to use the camera properly. The person behind the camera does have some input though in terms of composition and I still use a point and shoot albeit with some manual controls. I don't think I have ever used the complete Auto mode except for the action mode when I first started photographing horses. That doesn't work as the camera is not as clever at interpreting the scene as the photographer, too high ISO ususally - best to use manual and adjust for the prevailing conditions.

      As my husband says about these budding photogs "All the gear and no idea", people still say to me that the reason my photos are better than theirs is because I have a better camera!

      PS they are not always perfect!!

    • 2. Oct 25 2011 11:46AM by Chris

      You're absolutely right Gil, there is still user input in terms of composition but I think many people just ignore that. It's the old trick of holding the camera out at arms length, pushing the button and walking away.

      I remember seeing a post on a forum from a user who had upgraded to a Canon EOS-1Ds MkIII from an EOS 300D and wanted to know how to access Auto, Sport and Landscape modes!

      I think you've hit the nail on the head with regards to auto mode. The camera has to average the whole scene, which includes AF mode, location, speed, shutter, aperture, ISO, colour balance, white balance and more and it's never going to get everything right.

      But I think it's more than that - it's about ownership too. Not only are you relying on the camera to do the thinking but you're removing creative control from the person holding the camera.

      It's a bit like saying you've written a book by gluing together chapters from other books on the same subject. You’ve not written it. To quote Damien Demolder, the Editor of Amateur Photographer magazine, “if you didn’t choose the aperture, you didn’t make the photograph”.

    • 3. Oct 25 2011 3:53PM by Julia Percival

      I agree with Gill too, surely there is some ownership in using a camera in auto mode because you have to decide where to point it and when to press the shutter button. António's photo is stunning but not just because he wasn't using a DSLR in auto or a compact in manual mode, its awesome in a large part because he was pointing the camera in the right place at the right time. The use of non-automatic features on a camera is something that everyone who wants to be considered a "photographer" should at least understand but I think that the eye to see a composition and the ability to capture it effectively makes someone more of a photographer than what they use or how they use it. Many people take stunning images on cameras that don't have aperture or shutter control (mobile phones) but if they take a picture that changes the world do we say they still aren't a photographer?

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