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On Becoming a Pro, On Becoming an Amateur

It's an interesting observation. Some amateur photographers imagine themselves one day turning professional. And not a few professionals wish they could turn it all in and go back to shooting just for the fun of it.

I've met more than a few aspiring beginner photographers who dreamed of one day going pro. That makes sense, given that professionals weren't always pros. At some point in their lives, they, too, picked up a camera for the first time and got hooked.

And even if those dreams of going pro may be no more than secret wishes, the idea can be tempting. Maybe it might take a bit of effort, but think of the rewards. Being a professional photographer can sound fun. Those who dream of turning pro tell themselves they'd be free to go where they wanted and shoot what they wanted. They'd be able to retire from the nine-to-five daily grind and travel the world, paying their way as they go with royalties from their library of killer images. They might even become famous if things work out well.

On the other hand, many established photographers secretly dream of returning to the life of an amateur. This would free them from the constant need to produce in order to bring in money and make a living. They may have a family to support. They tell themselves they'd be able to shoot images because they wanted to, not because they had to. What started out as a source of enjoyment as an amateur can be robbed of its joy when shooting images gets turned into a business. Not all professionals feel this way of course, but quite a few do at least at some point, when they're feeling particularly stressed for some reason.

Perhaps all this just boils down to a case of "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence," but that strikes me as a bit too simplistic. I've been around long enough to know that both positions are valid. There are things about both that can be, and should be, desirable regardless of where you are at in your career and no matter what you may or may not aspire to be some day.

Professionals are generally very familiar with their camera, lenses and other gear. They have to be, since they make their living from their skill in using such tools. This is a skill earned through many hours and many years of practice. Just like mastering any tool or musical instrument, your familiarity with the controls of a camera are honed through repetition. Quick: which dial on your camera controls the aperture, and which the shutter speed. It's surprising how often people forget this sort of thing. Given this, is not surprising that controls that are less frequently used can often take even longer to master.

Amateurs are blessed with the ability to see things afresh. They aren't yet jaded from "seeing it all before." The fascination and wonderment of the first time the see something can be a powerful driver. That drive won't always result in the best images possible, but if does free you up from the tendency to shoot something a particular way because you've done so before. Sometime, images from experienced shooters can end up with a certain "sameness" resulting from a formulaic approach to the task at hand. As a beginner, if you can allow yourself to do so, and stay out of your own way, you can really end up with some nice shots. Based solely on the fact that they look nice in the viewfinder when you shoot them, you can sometimes really surprise yourself. And that feels pretty good.

The trick is to embody the best of both the amateur and the professional. The answer is to master your camera and the techniques of using it, while at the same time retaining the ability to see things anew, with the curiosity of someone seeing everything as for the first time. Everyone should be both a pro and an amateur.

Date posted: February 4, 2018


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