DISCUSS: Learning Photography Is Easy. Becoming a Photographer… that's a Different Story

DISCUSS: Learning Photography Is Easy. Becoming a Photographer… that’s a Different Story

Over in our forum area one of our most prolific members – Jim Bryant – kicked off a discussion with a statement that I thought might make a good discussion starter here on the blog too:

Learning photography is easy, there are so many articles, books, blogs, videos, workshops, and schools. Yet, becoming a photographer is a completely different story; it’s a journey that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a journey that requires knowledge and experience.

What do you think? Do you agree? What would you add? What’s your journey as a photographer been like?

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Don May 28, 2013 10:49 am

    I am reminded of a comment made by Timothy Kane (Head of the guitar school at the Canberra School of Music). He said that the guitar is an instrument that almost anyone can pick up and make some pleasing sounds - but to master the classical guitar is one of the greatest challenges in music performance.

    The same can be said of photography. Anyone can pick up a point and shoot camera or a mobile phone and make a pleasing image - but to truly master photography and make stunning pictures is a most challenging process.


  • Everett September 16, 2012 01:21 am

    I love photography and I enjoy going out and shooting. It is truly a hobby for me and would never envision an attempt in making it a career. However, I shoot to improve my hobby. It is my opinion that each person will see something different perhaps in the same picture. After spending over 26 years in law enforcement, policing some of the worst streets you could image, photography is way to return to "normal" and see life in a different view. I was want to be good as a hobbyist.

  • JacksonG August 29, 2012 10:05 am

    I shoot, therefore I am. I don't think you have to be paid to be called a photographer. I have a private pilots license, I don't fly for an airline but I am a pilot.

  • JWT August 27, 2012 11:05 am

    Strongly agree with the statement. I have just started doing photography, and read a lot of articles regarding different skills of photography, but when I wanted to do as what the article said, it turned out totally different things. A good photographer always try and try and try and when they get the setting they wanted, they recorded in their memory as experiences. That is my opinions ans what I have gone through for past few months.

  • Jason August 26, 2012 09:07 am

    The basic knowledge how to take a picture is quite simple. Mastering photography is a completely different story. There is a huge difference between the two.

  • John Pettett August 24, 2012 04:50 pm

    Learning is easier. Doing is harder.

  • Blaize August 24, 2012 10:52 am

    Interesting question...

    I tend to think that learning to take nice photograph is easy in one respect. I am student of many photographers it feels, and I find that sometimes I see a shot that looks like something I've seen before, and I will take such a shot.

    But learning how to see thing in an interesting manner such that I'm not copying another photographer's style -- that's difficult....

  • Fuzzy pics August 24, 2012 06:21 am

    Some would consider hitting a wall with a paintbrush as an improvement over Picasso. Making money is the only way to be considered a photographer? Sounds snobbish. I say the first thing is to have fun. Enjoy it whether it's work or play. If you are waiting for the approval of others, you just might be disappointed. If improving your skills is a stress, find something else to do, take a break. Get back to it when you can enjoy it.

  • Steve Perry August 24, 2012 03:33 am

    Technical skills, although necessary will never make you a photographer. There a many people with great technical skills in photography, fine art, sculpture etc. To be a true artist you need vision. You need to learn to see, to tell a story through your work. I have been involved in photography for about 2 years. My technical skills are pretty good. What I work on is looking for "the moment". That one time when you take a photo and say "wow". Still working on that. Not sure that is something that can be taught.

  • Chris August 24, 2012 02:50 am

    All visual arts have one thing in common - the ability to truly see and find what is interesting in a scene is 99% of the work. If you have that ability (and it is totally subjective), learning the technical aspects is a piece of cake.

    In my opinion, anyone with a camera and the desire to use it is a true photographer. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I couldn't care less how much effort was put into a shot, either I like it or I don't. That's what makes photography so great - at any given moment a rank beginner with a point and shoot can take a better shot than a seasoned "expert" with a kit that costs more than my car. Pretty cool!

  • WillemWernsen August 24, 2012 01:43 am

    "I try to capture man in all its beauty in a timeless and narrative way. I love black and white with all specific gray teints. I observe mankind with my eyes, I picture them with my heart"

    Its vision nothing else than Vision!


  • Becki August 24, 2012 01:42 am

    I find it very difficult to learn. I have taken classes, read articles, have books and nothing seems to stick. I can't remember the proper settings, etc. It might just not be for me, though I do enjoy taking pictures.

  • Tracy Harris August 23, 2012 04:07 am

    For me, learning how the camera works is relatively easy; learning how to work the camera is a whole nuther ball game.
    Working the camera is a constant learning process which one will never finish completely, and for that reason alone becoming a true photographer, professional or not, is a supremely difficult, and equally rewarding endeavor. I taught my first amateur photography class last night; it was a very simple affair for some camera owners at my church. I consider myself an "okay" photographer with a decent grasp of the necessary technical and artistic skills, but when I began trying to teach those skills to others in a classroom setting I realized I still have much to learn myself. I hope my students will stick with me as we all learn to become better photographers.

  • Loje August 22, 2012 10:27 am

    In my incredibly humble opinion (considering there are far better photographers here than I), I would have to say that a "photographer" is someone that knows and understands the craft. It doesn't necessarily mean you make a living at it.

    Way back in the dark ages, BD (that's Before Digital), I used to shoot B&W and develop my own film and make my own prints (somewhere I still have some long expired powdered chemicals). Digital has made "taking pictures" and "photography" in general much easier. Film doesn't give the instant gratification that digital does, nor are you able to "chimp" your shots and retake as necessary. You had to wait. I recall the days of going on vacation and shooting several rolls of 36 exp film, paid a ton of money (at the time) to have them developed only to have only a handful that I would consider "framers".

    I don't rely on post processing. Though I have them available, I'm not very good at Photoshop or Lightroom, or the myriad other software programs out there. And though I always see absolutely exquisite work (that I often envy), those that rely on post-processing, in my opinion, are graphic artists, not photographers. That's not a bad thing, it just means the camera is a secondary tool for the graphic artist and the computer is primary, not the other way around.

    I try to capture the best possible image in the camera, and rely very little on the computer. Admittedly, it's partly because of my ignorance of the software, but mostly it's because that's how I learned to take photo's oh so long ago.

    So I guess my definition would be that a photographer knows (or at least understands) the balance between lighting, composition, depth of field... and uses the camera as the primary tool to capture the world, and its hidden marvels, in unique and breathtaking ways. It doesn't necessarily mean you make money at it, although that would be a plus. I have several photographs that personally I'm pretty proud of. None of them, I'm sure are "amazing" to the general population... but I like them. And when all is said and done, that's all that really matters.

  • Juan August 22, 2012 06:19 am

    Well. I've been surprised by people who bypassed the journey and without even any intention to become a photographer take so good pictures that I then realize is a matter of vision; they even could tell anyone "I want you to take this picture because I do not know how to use a camera: my picture is black and white, noisy, blurry, with lots of staff in the background, and focus on that corner, and try to make it brighter than usual, etc., etc., etc.," and so take you through their vision and end up with stunning results. I've found that I've focused my attention on technique so much that I forgot about actually seeing, seizing a moment. Specially hard to get rid of is the rule of thirds. It becomes like genetically integrated into your photographic thinking. I'm not trying to say the journey (learning technique and experimenting) is unimportant or should be just disregarded. It's just that a few people just see and take great pictures.

  • Amelia Barney August 22, 2012 12:55 am

    I agree with many others that photography is a passion. Something that can really come through the photos. When you enjoy something so much it will come thru in your pictures and your subjects will feel you passion too, making for amazing pictures.

  • aaa August 21, 2012 02:51 pm

    Another aspect of this discussion is what defines Photography? I see more and more photoshop in images and I find it disturbing. It is true that you need a good photo to start with, but I still see far too many photoshopped images that should not be labelled Photographs.

  • RUTH Yates August 21, 2012 09:23 am

    I have read all the comments above, its funny how everyone wants to be classed as a photographer. I thought about this. Now I love photography have loved it since I was 18, I never ever called myself a photographer back then, I only started calling myself a photographer when I started to do it as a job. Its the same with any profession I suppose, for example if you were tuitoring children you wouldn't call yourself a teacher you would call yourself a tuitor. Same goes with any other profession. Using the word Amateur Photographer if you don't earn an income and Photographer by profession if you do. That is the best way of summing it up I think.

  • Tim August 21, 2012 06:50 am

    Mostly tips & tricks concern technical aspects, which indeed can be learnt in an evening with the camera's instruction manual to hand. If you're lucky, discussion of composition gets as far as rules.

    That no more makes a person a photographer than the ability to hit a wall with a paintbrush makes them Picasso.

  • Penelope August 21, 2012 01:58 am

    Anyone who wants to pick up a camera and capture the world around him is a photographer. We all take different subjects and have our own style, but you can't define a photographer by how much they make with their craft, what they photograph, or their skills with different cameras or software. A photographer is someone who takes photographs.

  • Patricia Reyna August 21, 2012 01:14 am

    I think that knowledge and experience are necessary, but the most important is TALENT.

  • Jai Catalano August 21, 2012 01:10 am

    I don't think learning photography is easy. It might be easier for some depending on which direction they go but it's a process that never ends or at least it shouldn't. Becoming a photographer is also dependent on many factors. Sometimes a little luck goes a long way but unless you are in the luck zone you have to work to get to the top.

  • Martin August 21, 2012 01:01 am

    I'll agree with the "popcorn needed" comment from doug sundseth above.

    This is definitively a tough question, because there is the "Amateur" photographer category which many refer to that doesn't really earn money off of this equation. Also abiding by EnergizedAV point of when did the topic include money?

    I've known some artists, they call themselves painters and writers, but they file and hang their works in basements that no one actually sees. Often, because it has become so easy to have a camera at hand (stealing glance at cellphone), many people seem to brand themselves with the title of "Photographer" as soon as they point a device that can capture a picture. I think the mentality has led to many Internet trolls making the moniker "Fauxtographer" popular in some circles. I don't believe there's any big difference between anyone in the crowd except the passion.

    Yes those earning the money are a step above (well... hopefully) and can live off their craft like true artists, but for everyone else, as long as you're passionate, I think it's all that counts. I'm a hobbyist photographer and will probably be for a while to come, I work another job and take a few pictures when I can. I say live on and snap away.

  • Thierry August 21, 2012 12:24 am

    I agree with EnergizedAV.

    So one can be called a photographer only by way of a paycheck? Does this go for painters as well? Tell that to Gauguin - I guess he was just stockbroker then.

    A professional gets paid for what they do. It does not mean that this person is necessarily an artist.

    If you think you are a photographer, then you are. Who's to say otherwise? It just means that you spend a lot of time taking pictures. Others may or may not value your work - what matters is that you do. Other people's money or appreciation is just a bonus.

  • Rosa August 20, 2012 11:37 pm

    @ EnergizedAV

    Well, it really depends what people understand by "being a photographer". For me it means that that is my profession, and if something is my profession, well unless you are very well off and don't have to earn any money, it does normally mean that "business " and "money" is a big part of "being a photographer".

  • EnergizedAV August 20, 2012 11:27 pm

    Is it about all of the dials on a camera? I've seen beautiful work from folks with no technical skill. But they have a true sense and flair for capturing beautiful images. What is a photographer?

  • EnergizedAV August 20, 2012 11:23 pm

    I didn't read anything in the statement about "being a professional" "in business" or any sense of money. Why do folks have to put a monetary value to this question? I consider myself a photographer whether it supports me or not ( it does) but I was a photographer before I started charging money for it and will be a photographer when I stop charging for it. If it is about money only, perhaps some should go back to the original statement and consider what a "photographer" is.

  • Victoria August 20, 2012 11:12 pm

    I've been in love with photography my whole life, but I didn't become serious about it until a few years ago. I bought a dslr and some lenses and stalked the forum here, every single day, to learn as much as I could. I learned how to take my camera out of "auto" and really get the most out of it. I am still on here every day, learning, absorbing, practicing...everything I can to hopefully one day become great at it. Recently, someone I know decided to call herself a photographer. Her husband bought her an expensive camera and she started taking candid pictures of everyone at her family gatherings. However, she has never learned how to use any other setting but "auto" on her camera. She basically uses it as a point and shoot. She has no idea what shutter speed is or DoF. Her pictures are nice but does this make her a photographer? While people like us, who are here to learn every day are questioning whether or not we are "good enough" to go public with our photographs? I feel, if you are going to go as far as calling yourself a photographer, creating a website and charging people for your service, you should at least know how to use your camera. Am I wrong for feeling that way?

  • Rosa August 20, 2012 11:04 pm

    I agree completely! I talk out of experience.

    I believe that learning photography is "easy", even though it takes time and the learning process is never over.

    Being a photographer is much more than making pictures it's a business. All those photographers who start out alone as a free-lancer need to be universal talents. Building and maintaining a business means: Selling, marketing and promoting your service, client relations, taking part in community and professional events to become known and get jobs, knowing how to use the internet to your advantage and learning constantly new trends, great post-processing skills, book keeping skills and writings skills etc.

    I think that being a photographer is particularly difficult for those freelance photographers who work alone and are more artists than business men/women.

  • John Davenport August 20, 2012 10:09 pm

    In essence this is true. Learning to point a camera and capture a pretty picture isn't hard especially now with all the information being shared openly on the internet. However, becoming a photographer, and earning money from this skill, is certainly much much more difficult.

    I wouldn't say it's even all based on skill of the craft as you also need to know how to market yourself, and talk to potential clients, which are not something you can learn from the internet. At least not as easy as learning to point a camera.

    Experience is key here and experience requires time.

  • Victor Howard August 20, 2012 07:59 pm

    Interesting. I don't see this as a question of whether or not you have a business and get paid but rather a question of competence and passion. First, a photographer should always be in learning mode. Second, if a person is starting out, the are plenty of classes and coaching opportunities to learn the basics. Continued practice and learning solidifies competence. This separates the simple snapshot from a photograph that is something more. The next level requires passion. Passion to capture the perfect light. Passion to capture just the right glance or stare. Passion to break the rules you learned and capture a moment in time that will never occur again. Many photographers are competent and make money. Photographers with passion will stir your soul.

  • Paul August 20, 2012 05:21 pm

    Sounding a bit elitist for my taste.
    Who defines who and what a photographer is?

    I am by my definition a photographer, and who is to say otherwise? I own a camera, some flashes and a handful of lenses. However I neither make money from my hobby nor do I take photos every day or even every week.

    I'd also consider my daughter a photographer, yet she 'only' has a point and shoot. She does however take the time to consider her composition and framing, I think that is how I define a photographer.
    I'd be interested to know how others define what a photographer is.

  • David Ford August 20, 2012 04:12 pm

    Essentially I agree, but would have probably phrased it differently; The techniques of photography are easy to learn, but the art of photography is something that builds on experience - I just hope I haven't left it too late!

  • RUTH Yates August 20, 2012 02:52 pm

    As per above.

  • RUTH Yates August 20, 2012 02:51 pm

    I wouldn't say learning photography is easy, I have been learning for about 4 years now, and I feel you can never learn enough. There maybe lots of books and videos etc out there but you need to have that eye for a good photograph and also be a little creative, its easy to take a standard shots with a point and shot camera, but to get that WOW factor takes a lot of time and patience, creativity and a little bit of luck (being in the right place at the right time). I think becoming a pro is very hard. I have become good enough to start up my own website and open up my home studio, but its getting your name out there and getting the work, that is the hard bit. I love photography that much I will never give it up, I have always loved photography since the age of 18 and now I'm in my 40's have lots of time on my hand and am able to persue my dream.

  • Mridula August 20, 2012 02:33 pm

    I think I just grew up with my blog and the journey continues.


  • Matt Dutile August 20, 2012 02:13 pm

    I'd agree to a degree with this. Ultimately there's a bit of see-saw action. Here's my perspective as someone who has made the transition from hobbyist to professional.

    1) Learning the basics of photography is incredibly easy these days - there is a wealth of information out there to read and learn from. This is made especially easier by the fact that you only need one person in this process to advance - you.
    2) Developing a client list, a vision based portfolio and a brand reputation can take ages. This advances throughout your career and is definitely years and decades in the making. It is also harder in that it requires the acceptance or admiration of others - namely your clients - in order to advance. Your marketing, great images and more will be rewarded, but to some degree it's at the mercy of other's tastes.
    3) Learning the finer points of creating world-class images can only be learned through time and experience (or assisting a great photographer for a number of years - and only maybe then). There are no articles at there that will teach you to be the next Avedon. Only you can make that happen - and in this it's a journey with no road map or end destination.

  • Eiley August 20, 2012 12:55 pm

    I think it depends on the person. I'm 12 and am already starting my "amateur photography business." Learning photography was easier than finishing my Pre-Algebra book. I've gotten four champions and two grand champions for my photography. Finding clients isn't that hard, either. I have a newborn shoot coming up, I've done portrait shoots in the past, and I'm currently scheduling family shoots.

    Paperwork is fun. editing is fun. promoting my business is fun. I love it all. I plan on going to college, getting a degree in business, and taking photography and graphic design classes. I love managing and stuff like that. I'm the president of my photography 4-H club!

    So, being a photographer and learning photographer are different things, but they can both be accomplished. For some it's difficult, for some it's easy. But just going out and saying that it's two completely different things for everybody is committing the Hasty Generalization fallacy.

    I hope that made sense. I ended up with a B- in English :( So, if that was not understandable, sorry!

  • Doug Sundseth August 20, 2012 08:12 am

    I think it's a classic example of the "Equivocation" logical fallacy. And any response is subject to a "No True Scotsman" reply.

    Down that path lies madness.

    Popcorn might be in order.

  • Barry E. Warren August 20, 2012 07:58 am

    That is true, anyone can take a picture. You can read all the books and take classes etc. The experience, and knowing your camera which takes time. When you can capture that moment ,that's a photo. When you takes photo's then your a Photographer.[eimg url='http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7252/7640195276_3a1fdd01db.jpg' title='7640195276_3a1fdd01db.jpg']

  • galfromaway August 20, 2012 07:44 am

    Is being a "photographer" defined as being "professional"? Or are there degrees of photographer-ness? I know I have a lot to learn, but I'd like to think that I'm more of an amateur photographer based on my previous education and experience. I don't make a whole lot of money, but more enjoy what I do and the images I capture/create.

  • Liza August 20, 2012 07:00 am

    I completely agree. I learned the skill rather quickly and learning new skills are relatively easy. However, becoming a professional photographer is very difficult for a creative person that dislikes the business aspect of it. Most people won't consider you a pro unless you are making a living out of it. I haven't been earning money for my skill for a long time but does that rank me down to hobbyist or amateur, now? I don't think that's fair because the fact that I'm not earning a living doesn't take away the years of experience, time or education that I've spent on my skill.

    Photography is considered an art form. There are quite a number of artists that while living were starving but later discovered for their talent. Can you name a few? There are many painters and sculpters. The one recent discovery in photography is Vivian Maier. Her contributions to photojournalism is extensive and her work is massive, yet, she never considered herself a pro photographer while she was alive. It was only after her hundered of rolls of film were discovered in an estate sale that she was proclaimed an artist...a photographer. I think that's quite sad.

  • Scottc August 20, 2012 06:59 am

    Given the history, I have a hard time with this one. Sorry, my knowledge and experience are my own.