Recently I had an interesting encounter on Twitter. It started when Lightroom graciously retweeted one of my recent posts about the newly updated Lightroom Mobile, and it prompted someone on Twitter to reply very harshly, implying that I was not a “real” photographer.

Now, I am not one to feed the trolls, but I had to ask him what his definition of a “real” photographer was. Here’s the Twitter conversation so you can see his response:

For those of you who know me, a large part of my business is that I write and sell photography-related eBooks, tutorials, and other content (presets & textures) and sell them in my own online store.

According to this fellow, doing so does not make me a photographer (even though a large portion of my income is derived from my stock photography earnings). I don’t feel the need to defend myself, I believe that my photographs and knowledge about photography speaks for itself. Overall, I chuckle at these reactions, and I tend to get very few of them (which is always nice).

Ironically, this conversation got me thinking … what is your definition of a “real photographer”? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

lavender-square-150pxNicole S. Young is a professional photographer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of several print books and eBooks, and runs her own online store for photographers, the “Nicolesy Store“.

You can read more of Nicole’s articles HERE, and view her work and website HERE.

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Join the conversation! 33 Comments

  1. Who needs a brick and mortar store when the world is your studio? The definition he gives would discount landscape photographers and a whole host of other photographers.

    And I doubt we really need to get permission from other people to call ourselves a photographer. And since camera phones and selfies are so popular, most people might consider themselves a photographer. Perhaps we should define ourselves by our own niche? I’m a portrait photographer. I’m a food photographer. I’m [fill in the black] photographer.

    Personally, I just want to be an amazing photographer.

    Ultimately, people will see your photograph and they won’t know your background or perhaps won’t even know WHO created the photograph. Photographs never include resumes.

  2. A photographer is someone who makes images.
    I never used to consider myself a “photographer” but i have always considered myself someone who makes images.
    Ignore the Trolls you know they are just jealous ;-)
    Whether you make a living from selling stock or shooting twee photos of nice family units in a “brick and mortar studio” is makes no odds
    I personally shoot Landscapes mainly in monochrome and people i come across.


  3. Nice post. This guy is not so different from those who say one isn’t a journalist unless one is a paid full-time employee of a newspaper or magazine. Those are the old days. He needs to get into the modern, decentralized world where most of the journalism, and photography, are happening.

  4. WOW! How harsh and unnecessary. Besides, in this day of digital/mobile commerce, a “brick and mortar studio” is not necessary to make a living in photography. And who says that a “real photographer” has to “make 100% of their income taking pictures?” Whatever happened to taking pictures for art and creativity and enjoyment? What a way to suck the joy out of photography! A “real” photographer (to me), is someone who loves the art and the craft of photography. Someone who strives to continuously learn and grow. Someone who can appreciate the beauty around them and wants to capture it. Someone who admires and respects the creativity of others. Someone who can truly “see” through a lens (and I’m not talking about just dollar signs).

    Glad you didn’t take these comments to heart. I can’t imagine why one artist doesn’t want to lift up another…

    • I think you described me perfectly. I am not a profeesional photographer,even though I have sold several photos to friends and neighbors. I am an ametuer who shoots as a hobby. To say I love it would be an understatement. It is my passion. I see beauty in things people wouldn’t even stop
      to take a 2nd look at. I have a mid-priced digital camera. I am in flickr.com and love sharing my photos with online friends.

  5. Brick and mortar is required to be a “real” photographer? I guess Amazon isn’t a real business. Over $25 billion in revenue just to find out that Amazon is a big poser.

    A photographer, real or imaginary, is someone who is able to capture or create a feeling or experience through a still image and convey that feeling or experience to their audience.

  6. I’m cynical. A professional photographer is one who is expert in Photoshop.

  7. This reminds me of the opinion I have about being a musician. I play a few instruments but don’t consider myself a musician. My son on the other hand, is a musician and he’s only 13. For me it’s determined by the level of mastery and ones ability to confidently navigate complex situations effortlessly, or with little trouble. It has nothing to with money, popularity, etc. Those are all illusions.

  8. I have a lot of troll food. :)
    Obviously you have to HAVE a studio… I mean, come on… I am a REAL photographer, and I have a studio– it’s called the WORLD… and my apartment…

    I’d simply say that a real photographer is one who understands techniques and captures light, and takes deliberate action on making photographs. I’d say a real “Pro” photographer is one that uses photography as a profession… which would make sense if you’re selling pictures, teaching, shooting while developing tools for other photographers and whatnot… a real pro one would be like… both? Haha! Great post!

  9. I think Mykii Liu is really close.

    “A real photographer is one who understands exposure and composition techniques, and takes deliberate action when making photographs” is all that really needs to be said.

  10. I took the bait and looked at his website. Someone needs three things: 1. Your books. All of them. And the chapters on focus and WB should be highlighted. 2. A better studio. 3. A hug.

  11. Loosely put, a Photographer is one who takes at least one photograph but when one thinks of a ‘Photographer’, a bit more might be involved as in ‘making a living’ taking photographs or even an artist who takes photographs and has yet to make a cent on his work. It really comes down to context just as being an ‘adult’ can be contextual. One could split hairs ore hares all day, but at the end of the day, if one takes photographs and considers that effort part of his makeup, then he/she is a photographer.

    • Matt,I like what you said! I am an ametuer photographer but my next outing or shot is the first
      thing I think of every morning when I wake up. So am I a “real photographer”?
      Probably not. I am just someone who loves it. I’m not a big fan of labels.

  12. A real photographer is one who understands the shooting triangle and manipulates it to create fabulous images. In my book, they don’t even have to make money at it.

  13. I accept what follows as truely naive.
    A “real” photographer makes authentic images true to their own personal connections with the subject matter. When asked if I am a “professional photographer”, my canned, cynical response is “only when I get paid”. Some real photographers unfortunately have only realize financial success postumously or very late in their lifetime. Many contemporary photographers for very practical reasons have taken advantage of opportunities presented by the internet to financially secure themselves and their families. One very lucrative way to “get paid” is to offer a path for non-professionals, such as my self, means to elevate their skillset and appreciation of photography as an art form. Examples includes blogs, online training, digital downloads, webinars, workshops and photo tours. The saturation of the web with these, particularly by an individual or cohort of photographers can be perceived as excessive self promotion and suggest a diluted form of “real” photography. What might be worse this can lead to dilution of the market place and a threat to others financial stability. The key to personal fulfillment is to not loose being a real photographer for the sake of commerce or celebraty.

  14. Photographer is a person who creates images by manipulating light on light sensitive material be it a digital sensor or film, paper ect. The digital world has allowed photographers to supplement their income with actions, presets, tutorials ect.
    From my experience and my opinion is that brick and mortar studios will exist but as people want a more fantastical experience and portability of portrait photographer becomes even easier than now, it wont be a necessity in the future. Close views of photography is what will hold it back for those people.

  15. I “think” the guy means that a “real” photographer is someone who is a “pro” photographer. He most likely lumps all others into the “hobbyist” bucket. If I read between the lines that’s what he’s probably complaining about. Many brick and mortar photogs find “non pros” taking work from them. It’s not about skill level or ability. It’s a commerce rant.
    I would loose the term “real” in any discussion. If you point a camera at something, you’ve taken a picture. If you take pictures … I “guess” your a photographer.
    I “think” that most “photographers” use the term real to mean “good” or “inspiring” or “awesome”.
    “Wow. he’s a great photographer”
    For realz!!!!
    I won’t go into what makes a pro. IMHO
    But “real” could also be understood as a reaction to people who pretend to be photographers. Maybe the original objector is talking about people who claim (have websites, business names, wedding wire accounts) but aren’t really legitimate businesses. They don’t have a business license, sales tax card, insurance blah blah blah. Kind of along the lines of a “store” opening without having any off those “business” requirements. That store would most likely get shut down by somebody who wants the taxes etc. I would guess that’s what they are upset about.
    Being a pro/legit business doesn’t make you inspiring, good, great or popular.
    If I were to guess, there are way more good/real photogs then there are pros.
    My thought is that if you are going to call yourself a photographer …. you should be a pro about it.
    Not just real.

    • “A REAL Photographer”?? any person who captures an image using a device – this can be a piece of film in a shoe box, or a $3,000 digital camera.
      (Any person can play the piano – except the quality of the notes emitted.)

      IMHO the discussion is about degree or level of skill. We appreciate outcomes of some and not others based on our personal biases and experiences. Any art form has the same evaluation criteria.
      Do what you love and put your whole heart, mind and soul into it.
      People will appreciate it or not.
      We need the artists and we need the teachers. We need the purest, too. I just hope the trolls are not so egotistical and remain silent.

      Nicole, I love your work and I know you enjoy what you do. Keep it up. I learn a lot from you.

  16. During school, one of the hardest things to do was to call myself an artist. It was very difficult to proclaim “Yes, I AM a photographer,” because I believed I couldn’t say so unless I was making a living at it. But the thing with creating art is that we do so because it is a necessary function of our beings – we need to have creative output to feel “right.” It doesn’t matter if you make money from your work. It matters that you put thought into it and care about it, and that it fulfills the need to create.

  17. Shhh… P-P-Please don’t tell any of my clients who have used my images in their sales brochures, on their billboards, or on their websites that I am not a photographer just because I don’t have a B&M studio. I would be ruined.

    Not that I am anywhere near to their class, but according to the troll’s definition, Joe McNally, Moose Peterson, Tony Sweet, John Paul Caponigro, Martin Bailey, etc. are not “real photographers”. Guess you could also include Jay Maisel in that group.

    Return to bridge that you hide under went scaring small children.

    Enough said. Until next time…

  18. Everyone has an opinion and it saddens me that folks attack others so viciously…….
    “Do what you like, like what you do” good words to live by thanks to Life is Good!
    I have learned a lot from Nicole – you will always be a PRO in my opinion!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, wisdom and creative expertise!

  19. There’s nothing elitist about being a photographer. Everyone who makes a picture is a photographer, and everyone is welcome to try their hand at marketing their work (and tutorials), making it a profession. That’s the beauty of a free market.

  20. im an amateur/hobbyist/enthusiast club photographer “many awards” and i know a lot of professional photographers, the majority of whom produce what I would consider crap. I know an awful lot of amateur/hobbyist/enthusiast club photographer who produce stuning and wonderful images on a regualer basis and SHARE their knowledege either freely or by way of contribution. However the professional gets paid for it while the amateur/hobbyist/enthusiast club photographer normally does not.

    I also know wonderful pro-photographers who produce stuning and wonderful images regularly and often do lectures/courses/blogs and other mediums to supplement their income, this does not devalue their work or worth.

    My penny’s worth! A pro-photographer is someone who takes photographs on a commissioned basis or for stock or for gallery and gets paid for it. PERIOD!. They don’t need to own a studio,that can be rented, or any gear, that can also be rented. A photographer nonetheless, is any person who captures/creates an image by exposing light from scene before them regardless of subject either by film or digital cell.

  21. Nicole- you ARE my true definition of a photographer. Not only is your work great, which you earn a living from, but you truly do try to help others. Photography is my passion, and while I have earned some money from selling an image for a billboard used at a large sports park, and have also been compensated for publication, I do have a “day job”. Yet, I also am a photographer. I care passionately about the craft, and those who pursue and practice it. But, those who try to help others are the ones I care about the most. Proud to be a fellow photographer.

  22. I can sort of understand some of the rage, today as with times past, any good marketer/salesperson can b.s. their way into almost any creative profession. I guess the real test is whether one’s commitment to quality and expressive talents can stand the test of time…

  23. […] 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 […]


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About Nicole S. Young

Photographer, author, entrepreneur. I love photographing food and landscapes, and have written several how-to books on Photography, post-processing, and creative inspiration. You can find more about me on my blog, online store, as well as on Google+ and Twitter.


Opinion, Photography


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