Are you a “real” photographer? Of course you are! If you love photography, regardless of your level of experience, then you fit the bill. However we have all seen, heard, or maybe even felt a little bit of dissuasion from other people (usually, other photographers) against how many of us define it. So I thought it would be fun to have a little bit of fun and jot down my response to some of the “myths” that we all see from time to time about how a “real” photographer is defined.

Myth #1:

Only real photographers shoot in Manual Mode. ALL THE TIME.

This myth is at the #1 spot because it drives me bonkers when I hear it. Please don’t misunderstand me: I think that learning how to use your camera, primarily a deep understanding of the exposure triangle, is essential for anyone who wants to make better photographs. But does that mean that you need to ALWAYS shoot in manual to prove that you know what you’re doing? Of course not.

As a photographer I have been photographing as a hobby, and professionally, for more than 15 years. I’m pretty aware of how light works, how to use my camera to get proper exposure, and most other things that I should be expected to know and understand at this stage of my career. Yet for the most part, I shoot in the Aperture Priority mode. I won’t get into details here, but to sum it up, I trust my camera. I spent a lot of money getting some of the best gear, and I will use it as a tool to help me create photographs without being slowed-down by setting everything myself. The camera can do a lot of the exact same work that you would be doing yourself in manual mode.

In other words, you don’t need to shoot in manual. If that is the most comfortable way for you to create the best photographs, then go for it! But if not and you want to use something else, then that’s great too! The bottom line is the resulting photograph, and no one should care about how it was made.

(If you would like to read more about my opinion on this topic, please click here to read my post “Aperture Priority vs. Manual Mode“.)

Myth #2:

A “real” photographer always creates near-perfect images SOOC

(SOOC = Straight Out of the Camera)

Anyone who is against fixing or enhancing an image in post-processing clearly never photographed with film (or they did, and they only ever used slide-film). Sure, getting your exposure, composition, and focus is ideal, and always should be what you are trying to do. But does that mean that if a photo is less-than-perfect that it should be rejected and set aside? Of course not! I agree that it’s not ideal to shrug off a bad scene (or, even worse, being lazy about what you are photographing) and just say that you will “fix it in Photoshop”. However, that doesn’t mean that a mistake here and there isn’t worthy of being revived with a pass through the computer.

Myth#3:

Real photographers need big, expensive gear to be considered legit.

There’s definitely something to be said about walking into a photo-shoot with a fancy, expensive camera. To non-photographers, a big camera screams “I’m a professional photographer!”. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to give that impression, especially when you are working with a client. But in reality, we all know that the camera does not matter as much as the photographer.

In my opinion, the average DSLR is bulky and clunky. I still use mine, and the Canon 5D3 is my main, go-to camera for landscape and food photography. However I long for the day when I can trade it in for a mirrorless system I am 100% satisfied with. Smaller, more compact cameras mean a lighter load, less attention drawn to the camera and photographer, and a much more enjoyable experience overall. We are even using point-and-shoots and smart phones to capture print-worthy images. Stocksy, a stock-photography website, even has a collection of images filled with mobile photographs.

The photographer creates the photograph, not the camera. We don’t need big cameras to prove our status as photographers; let’s allow the photographs speak for themselves, shall we?

Myth #4:

You are only considered a “real” photographer if you work in a studio.

If you follow this website, you may remember a post I wrote a few months back titled “What’s your Definition of a Photographer?“, about a fellow over on Twitter who bashed me for not having a studio. He was basically claiming that I was not a “real” photographer because, instead of working out of a studio with clients, I make my living in other ways, primarily selling books and other tools via my online store. A little digging into this photographer’s portfolio revealed that, while he may make a living with photography, he wasn’t necessarily making the best photographs. Does that make him any less of a photographer? Maybe not. But for me, a fancy studio and a paycheck means less than creating beautiful photographs with meaning and impact.

In my opinion, some of the BEST photographers out there are not making ANY money from their photography. And most of them do not have studios. I mean, seriously … travel and landscape photographers don’t need a studio to do their work, and I’m sure most National Geographic photographers would agree. Why pay for the overhead if you don’t need to? Working in a photography studio is not a requirement towards being a real (or even a good) photographer. And, if you ask me, it’s silly to think otherwise.

Myth #5:

You’re not a real photographer if you don’t make money with your photography.

This myth carries over somewhat from # 4 (above), and as I already said, some of the best photographers I know make very little to nothing from their photography. These days even I now make more money self-publishing and educating about photography than I do from my stock photography portfolio. Does that make me less of a photographer? No way. The same goes for anyone who carries a camera, creates photographs, but does not do it full-time (or even part-time). If you create photos with passion, you are a photographer. Don’t let the lack of a paycheck fool you into thinking that you’re not.