This definition of a real photographer: “full time PRO with a real brick and mortar studio who makes 100% of his income taking pictures not selling crap to other photogs“was a response to a tweet about my fellow Photofocus contributor Nicole Young.

First, here’s some context. Nicole wrote a very thorough and useful “how to” for Lightroom Mobile on Photofocus. Read Nicole’s post here. It was recommended by @Lightroom. That garnered the derogatory tweet that Lightroom Mobile was the “stupidest damn s**t i have ever heard of ask a REAL photographer if they will use this to MAKE money/living“.

Toni & Guy shoot in my studio.

This got me to thinking. A lot. Several thoughts happened as questions. Do the tools used make a photographer REAL? Is REAL a new way of saying professional? Are multiple income streams a “bad” thing? Do having them automatically demote a REAL photographer to being unREAL? Is a studio in a fixed location the determining factor of REALness? When something new, Lightroom Mobile for instance, comes along does it threaten REALity? And now the one that really burns me: What about female photographers like Nicole or Annie Leibowitz for for that matter? The tweeted definition says “100% of his income…” What about her income?

I’ve gotta say, right here right now, that my income producing (i.e.: paying) clients love it when, during a meeting to discuss the next step in their project, I pull out my iPad in the coffee shop and we review, flag and tweak their photographs on (yep) Lightroom Mobile and with Mosaic as well. So to answer the question “does a REAL photographer use them to make money and a living?” I say: “Yes I do.”

This, however, might beg my status as a REAL photographer. You see, I have written books on photography. I wrote a magazine column for over eleven years on how a photographer (me) uses Photoshop. I contribute to blogs including here on Photofocus, Sigma, Tether Tools as well as my own on I shoot assignment work. I make all of the photographs that appear in my writing. I even take pictures for fun. I also teach photography at the Creative Circus an advertising and image school in Atlanta. I teach at conferences and do workshops. All of which involve photography. Do I make 100% of my income “taking pictures?” No I don’t. I also get paid to do retouching, pre-production of my shoots, model casting, archiving, printing as well as digital delivery of the work I am commissioned to create. So by the definition of a REAL photographer offered above, I clearly don’t make the cut even though I have been in the same studio with a sixty foot cyc wall, reception area, background rental service, high end scanning station and digital post production facility for both still and video for over thirty years.

REAListically the tweeter quoted above doesn’t make his entire income “taking pictures” either unless he just hands over the card directly from the camera to his client.

So it looks like I am not a REAL photographer.

I am a professional one who keeps it real.

Shooting a swimsuit editorial  in Key Biscayne, Florida



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Join the conversation! 12 Comments

  1. Well done Mr Ames. Thanks for speaking out for all of us “unreal” photographers. By the way Nicole photographs food and then eats it. Now there is a conundrum if there ever was one.

  2. I’ve been taking pictures most of my life.. Ten years ago, I started getting paid to take pictures. From shooting for a tattoo magazine, then a music mag then into the adult world.. Shooting so much that I sold my trucking business and now shoot full time.. After 40 years, I still consider myself just a guy with a camera.. A very lucky guy.. @industrybyrick on twitter..

  3. LOVE LOVE LOVE your post!!! I am so tired of seeing VERY negative comments everywhere you look. People sit behind a computer with a fake name and judge everything. Photography is just a hobby for me because I am disabled. BUT it gives me nothing but joy so I will take the title of unReal and wear it with pride!

  4. 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.

  5. Many folks now call themselves “professional photographers” when in reality they are tour guides who carry a camera or authors who pen photo instruction ebooks.

  6. Nice response. Now we get down to brass tacks or maybe it is just traditional vs non traditional. Religion has cut the divides between traditional and different so badly that it is not worth following that type of thinking. The point is, if a person takes a picture, he is a photographer and if he makes a single cent he is professional. However if he makes his living doing so, then he is a working professional. In photography these days, part of the profession is in ‘developing’ the shot. If this means using chemicals to fix an exposure and then transfer it to paper or using a computer to detail the picture so that it meets the standard for which the ‘photographer desires, it is still part of the profession. Any other interpretation is simply splitting hairs.

  7. Part of being a Photographer is improving yourself and getting better at the craft – professional or otherwise.
    I have learnt a great deal from Nicole, and my photography has improved with that knowledge.
    The tweet person might not be aware of it ,but Nicole provides presets and ebooks FREE
    By the way,I did my first paid gig in 1980 – and any information that is offered to me I’ll take.

  8. I’m a travel photographer, so I guess I can’t be a real photographer because I don’t have a studio.

    Oh well….

  9. A real professional photographer is someone who can on demand make a required image without resorting to guesswork, spray and pray or luck. They can so it with what ever tools they have at hand and repeat it on demand. It had nothing to do with studio or mortar or even money. It has to do with knowing your craft.

  10. No offense to Mr Ames but doesn’t he have anything better to do with his time than respond to ignorant tweets from disconnected internet trolls. I read two sentences and realized the article was nothing but a regurgitation of what should be obvious to any right thinking person. How about you guys stick to tips to help us become REAL photographers?


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About Kevin Ames

Photography is life. Kevin Ames is living it to the fullest. His career encompasses commercial photography, authoring books on Photoshop, Lightroom, as well as on photographing women, two magazine columns (Digital Photographer’s Notebook) in Photoshop User, (Lighting Photographer’s Handbook) in Light It! and speaking engagements in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia at Photoshop World, WPPI and Photo Plus Expo. Through it all he maintains his studio in Atlanta, Georgia working with clients including A.T.&T., Westin Hotels and Honda Power Equipment. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Time, Atlanta Sports and Fitness and exhibited at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art and on corporate websites, brochures and catalogs. Kevin is a Sigma Pro and Dynalite VIP. Read his blogs on: and


Inspiration, Opinion, Photography