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Becoming a Professional Photographer

A lot of people nowadays have great aspirations to become a professional photographer. They just picked up some professional equipment, they got themselves a professional website, they had a professional logo designed by a professional graphic designer, they have professional business cards all ready to go and, most importantly, they already have some paid gigs under their professional belt.

Well, if they are getting paid to take pictures, then they must be a professional photographer, right? Sure. No doubt about it. Because if you look under "professional" in the New Oxford American Dictionary, one entry is as follows:

professional
adjective
(of a person) engaged in a specified activity as one's main paid occupation rather than as a pastime

So, yes, they are technically a professional photographer. Technically. But most people seem to overlook another entry you'll find under "professional" in the dictionary. It's a definition that I think says much more about a person. It's a title one must earn through hard work, practice and patience. It's not something one earns with a cleared check. It's the definition we should all strive for over the latter:

professional
adjective
having or showing the skill appropriate to a professional person; competent or skillful

Having or showing the skill appropriate to a professional. Competent. Skillful.

These are the things every photographer should strive for. Not just the ones looking to make a buck with their photography - everyone. We should all strive to be competent and skillful. Whether you collect payment for applying these skills is irrelevant. Family pictures, travel shots, party pictures...doesn't matter. If you are competent and skillful, you will enjoy photography and you will have great pictures to show for it.

If you do want to make money from your photography; great! There's never been a better time than now to do it. The sky is the limit and you can create a successful photography business faster than ever before. But don't be just another paid amateur. Be competent. Have the skills appropriate to a professional photographer. Know how to operate your camera with your eyes closed, be able to rattle off the shutter speed that will lighten your exposure by 2 stops, know exactly what depth of field you need, don't ever forget that a smaller f-number is a larger aperture.

Be competent. Be skillful. Be professional.

Regardless of what your financial goals are in photography. Earn the title. Earn it through training, experimenting and tons and tons of practice. Collect payment or don't. But never stop striving to be professional.

Dealing With Criticism

Every artistic field is rampant with critics. Movies, music, painting, sculpture, photography - every art form has an entire sub-field of writers, bloggers, personalities and just average Joe's who make it their job to criticize other people's work. But it's not just professional critics. You'll find critics in your friends, family and casual acquaintances, too. Pretty much anyone who views your work is one comment away from being a critic.

It's this phenomena that gave birth to the old phrase "everyone's a critic." But although it can feel like everyone's a critic, it's actually a very small number of people. The only problem is, critics are loud and, so, they seem like a bigger group than they are. Most people you'll run into will have only positive things to say, or nothing to say at all (which is almost as good) about your work. But every once in awhile, some critic won't be able to resist the urge to take you down a peg. Especially when you're starting out, these criticisms can be really demoralizing and can even hang you up for a little while in a mire of self-doubt.

With a little over 11 years experience under my belt and a few successes to my name, I'm happy to say I'm no longer bothered by criticism of my work. It rolls off my back like water off a duck. But it's because I've realized a few things - things I want to share with you so you can avoid letting these criticisms get the best of you.

Keep in mind that when I say criticism, I don't just mean the blatant ones. Sometimes they won't be as obvious as "that's a bad picture." Those criticisms are actually easy to brush off because the person just comes off as a jerk. It's the more subtle criticisms that you don't even really notice until later that can really bog you down. I mean comments like "You know, I've taken a picture exactly like that" or "You must have a really great camera" or "That's pretty good for how long you've been shooting."

It's just anything that hints at you being inferior or not knowing what you're doing. Camera store salesmen are pros are dropping these comments.

These comments can really gnaw away at you and make you want to scream at the person who's saying them. But these comments are much easier to ignore when you realize the mechanism behind them.

These people who make a career out of bringing people down a peg - and I don't mean literally make a career, I mean they tend to bring everyone around them down a peg regardless of the topic at hand - these people do it because they are scared. They are scared of the entire world around them. They're afraid of people being more successful than they are, they're afraid of people being more talented than they are. To these people, life is a competitive sport and everyone is competition. And instead of spending time practicing and being a better person in order to get ahead, they take the easy route of bringing everyone around them down to their level. Instead of working hard to be first place, they work hard to make everyone else last place.

If it seems a little extreme, just think about it. Think about something you are completely confident in your abilities to perform. Cooking, making birdhouses, photography - whatever. Just think of something you are a pro at. Now think of someone who's worse than you. Someone who sucks at cooking or making birdhouses. Do you criticize their work? Do you make comments to demonstrate your superiority? I'm betting not. You're clearly more competent than they are, so you don't need to bring them down a peg. Ever notice that the most critical people are never themselves any good at what they criticize?

Most people operate this way. Most people are generally nice and don't want to hurt other people's feelings. They won't offer up criticism unless really provoked and they will be much quicker to point out the positives in your work. Even if you really, truly suck, people are too nice to say so. They don't stand to benefit from making you feel bad about your work, so they will either lie and say you're great, only point out the positives or just say nothing at all.

That's most people. But it's these critics you gotta watch out for. They are few, but they can really mess you up.

So next time someone critizes your abilities, whether it's a peer, teacher, friend, family member or camera store salesman, just feel bad for them. Pity them. See that they are either consciously or subconsciously intimidated by your abilities. They see you striding out towards first place and they're just trying to grab a hold of your shirt to pull you back to second place. Their survival mechanism is kicking in - that's all.

My advice here may seem a little trite and even a little motherly, but it's really true. Next time someone criticizes your work, take a look at their work. It's probably worse than yours. If it's not worse than yours, then you should feel extra bad for them because they have serious self-esteem issues that prevent them from seeing their own talent. People who are competent and confident in their abilities don't waste time making other people feel bad about their work.

These critics only bother speaking up when they see a threat. So really, if you think about it, criticism is usually a compliment. 😀

Outdoor Photographer – March 2009

I am extremely happy to report that my article entitled "Shoot More, Process Less" has been published in the March 2009 issue of Outdoor Photographer along with eight of my photos!

AND MY PICTURE MADE THE COVER!

This is a really big deal for me because when I started getting serious about photography quite a few years back, one of my biggest goals was to have an article published in Outdoor Photographer and to make the cover. Now I can say I did it (and just shy of my 22nd birthday)! I'm so excited!

I've been subscribing to Outdoor Photographer for a long time now because I truly feel it is the highest quality photography magazine out there today.†It's very well laid out with great photography and top-notch articles.†I owe a lot of my knowledge to the articles found in this magazine.†

Needless to say, I had to take a ton of pictures of this accomplishment and post it here on my blog. I'm not trying to toot my own horn or anything, but I'm just so happy!

The cover.

Pages 1-2 of my article.

Pages 3-4.

Page 5.

Some vanity shots (I'm a dork):

The entire article is also online at the Outdoor Photographer website. You can read it here. My article is featured on the homepage of www.OutdoorPhotographer.com towards the middle. It was at the top for a little bit and, luckily, I got some screenshots of it.

I'd love to hear from anybody who has seen this issue and/or has read my article. I've heard from a few people across the country already and I'd love to get more feedback.†