The Professional Photographer Vs. the Very Good Amateur
I consume my fair share of online content related to photography. If you're reading this blog, I'd say we have that in common. I receive a number of monthly photo newsletters from photographers I admire. Last week I received one talking about the growing amount of sub-par online photography training courses.
Since I also produce educational material on photography - ebooks, videos, and tips in this blog - I read this with keen interest. There is sub-par content out there - I won't argue that. The newsletter used the phase "course material from the so-called 'masters'".
Personally, I'm dubious of any person - photographer or otherwise - who claims themselves a master. The self-proclaimed master is simple hubris. If other photographers describe an educator as a master, that's a form of praise. And depending on the source, can carry weight. And that's important - the source. I'll come back to that.
This is the phrase that prompted me to write this post. Still on the topic of online course material, the newsletter projected that the photo industry is:
"...an industry that may no longer be able to discern between true professionals and really good amateurs."
Huh? Good information is good information. Quality training is quality training. Imagine if the scientific world had said, "Sorry Mr. Einstein, we only read theoretical papers from true physicists. You're a patent clerk."
I think it's that term "true professional" that bugs me. What does that mean? Googling "professional definition" turns up "engaged in a specified activity as one's main paid occupation rather than as a pastime". By that definition, a pro photographer is someone who's main income comes from photography. Ok, that's fine. Does that mean photographers that work part time, or don't get paid at all, are "really good amateurs"? That their experience and knowledge is automatically less valuable than a "pro"? And therefore should be discounted?
Here's an example... a number of years ago, I began following the work of Jay Patel. His landscapes are excellent and I really admire his work. The books and video training he's done are very, very good. When I first started following Jay, his primary career was not photography. Per the above, not a "true professional." Does his income source lessen the value of his training products? His experience making pictures? The knowledge he has to share? Absolutely not.
To me, Jay is a trusted source. Although I've never met Jay, I've seen and admire his work. He makes great images and I'm therefore inclined to listen to his teachings and incorporate them knowledge into my own style of photography. I've written about trusted sources before when talking about getting critiques of your own work. A critique is meaningful when given by someone whose work you admire.
I get the subtext of what this newsletter was trying to put across - quality education comes from quality sources. What I take exception to is limiting where you find quality sources. I think you gage a photographer by their work. Plain and simple. I've gotten repeated emails for a local San Diego landscape workshops and the image gracing the email is bloody awful. I know the area, I know where the photo was taken, and I know what's in the email is a snapshot. If the email has a dull, uninspiring photo, it's likely the class isn't going to be good.
The newsletter summed up with:
"Does the quality and experience of the educator carry any significant weight with your buying decision?"
Of course it does. It damn well should. What doesn't is the educator's income stream or balance sheet. What do you think?