Story by Kate McGuire
Is everyone a photographer? It’s so easy to borrow, rent or purchase professional photography equipment like cameras, lighting kits, online software and more. Also, social media applications make dull, uncreative photos come alive with vibrant filters and decorations. Even services like GetInstaFamous use the photo sharing application Instagram to market people and, hopefully, make them famous. Is someone a photographer just because they can take a “good” photo?
Below are three professional photographers in various fields who weigh in on this question and more to see if today, everyone is a photographer.
Rod Aydelotte, chief photographer for the Waco Tribune-Herald and a 1977 Baylor alum, has covered events like the 1993 Branch Davidian siege at Mount Carmel, and he’s photographed seven U.S. presidents’ visits to Waco.
Dallas-based portrait photographer Kent Barker shoots editorial pieces for magazines like Rolling Stone, Men’s Journal, Esquire, GQ, Texas Monthly and for advertising firms like Nike, Budweiser, Northwestern Mutual and others.
Associate photo editor for National Geographic, 2009 Baylor alum Janna Dotschkal creates multimedia pieces and edits photos for National Geographic magazine, both for print and online.
Is photography only meant for professionals who were trained for this field?
JANNA: Having spent a lot of time looking at both amateur and professional photography, I can say without a doubt that there is a difference in quality. Professional photographers are trained to frame a photograph in such a way that it will be easy to read and understand. Distracting backgrounds, white space or overexposure are going to confuse the viewer. You should be able to look at a photograph and immediately know what the photographer is trying to communicate. Photojournalists in particular are trained in ways to photograph a story and provide information that is unbiased. As with reporters or other field journalists, they take every care not to alter a situation when shooting or later on in Photoshop.
ROD: Anyone can be a photographer, but just because they have the software they are not professional photographers. A professional sees photos in a different light. They see angles, composition, lighting, and by really looking at those things they create good photos.
KENT: I’ve been a photographer all my life and I’ve seen huge changes in the medium. The digital realm and the wide offering of Photoshop has brought even more people into photography but, a lot of them that are in photography aren’t really making a living per say because they are charging so little that they aren’t making a living.
I’ve been a photographer before Photoshop, before you could fix things. I’ve had to learn the manual practices. What keeps me working today is that knowledge of things like lighting. So many of the new people that come into photography can just see a few things, have a creative eye and fix things in Photoshop but, when they are put into situations where they have to think about these things and the technology isn’t there they become stuck. I can say that because I mentor a lot of young people.
Can everyone be a photographer?
ROD: A pro is going into a situation looking for the moment which may be a brief instance in time you get the perfect photo. A pro is doing the crazy things to create the photo, they’re going to put a lot more time and energy into something – we are thinking ahead of what to do. Just because you have the camera and software doesn’t make you the photographer,
KENT: Because you can buy a nice camera and have Photoshop, you still need to learn your basic skills. If you don’t know that you’re in trouble. Although there is this advancement, it’s still photography.
There is a level of technology in post-work that it is a big factor. To be fluent in your post-work it’s important to know contemporary photography. I don’t think going to school or college does too much. I take in youth around town as interns so they can be assistants for others. Most are doing tethering. They need to know how things work and how to set up a light, et cetera.
I came from a fine art program, but while I was working at Dairy Queen I happened upon a very good photographer who mentored me. I would have never been a photographer unless I had that assistantship teaching. I make it my business to help my interns as best I can.
JANNA: While the accessibility of photography to the masses has changed the photography industry and made it harder for photographers to support themselves financially, there are signs that people still value professional photography. Instagram in particular has allowed many photographers to get more commissioned work than ever before. More people are looking at good photography and wanting to consume professionally crafted images. One recent study in particular used eye-tracking technology to test if people could distinguish professional from non-professional photography. Based on that sample, people were more drawn to professional photography.
What makes a good photographer?
KENT: Having a sense of ability, a point of view. A good photographer — when you look at their work, the work will exude a quality of work. One of the qualities of a good photographer is knowing what to throw away. Young photographers work hard on something and want to put it in there books but really look at the photos you need to sort out the rubbish. What is going to make you stand out? Need to take a different perspective.
JANNA: A great photograph has clean lines, well-balanced composition, appropriate exposure (light or darkness) and a story or situation that is clear and well represented. While to a certain extent amateur photographers are improving because of technological advances, in the end they often lack a refined eye for capturing the right moments in the right way.
ROD: There are various ways to classify photography, but everybody who takes a photo is going to have a unique eye, a lot of that varies from one degree to the other, are they news, sports, feature, et cetera… It doesn’t matter what equipment you may have but what kind of photographer you are.