What Makes Us Photographers?
What really distinguishes those of us who consider ourselves 'photographers' from anyone with a camera phone?
Nowadays, with the easy access to digital cameras and phones, everyone is seemingly a photographer. You constantly see people capturing everything from their food to the 21st century's version of a self portrait and exhibiting it on Instagram, Facebook, and the like. So what, then, distinguishes us (including myself here) from everybody else who makes snapshots?
Is it our gear? Is it that you have to own a DSLR or similar to be a real photographer? I'd argue that that isn't the case. There are some pretty amazing photographers out there, simply using their phones and I just say that I too sometimes opt for my phone instead of carrying around my camera everywhere I go simply due to convenience. And then on the other hand, you have those people who own the fanciest DSLR, barely use it, and when they do, take random snapshots on auto mode... not really what I mean by being a photographer.
So is it technique, then? Technical knowledge? Is the technical knowledge of the field what makes us "photographers?" I'd say that it is part of it. I am personally not an expert on all technical aspects of photography (obviously), but I do know my way around the basics such as aperture and ISO. And I would say that a certain extent on research and education around these topics is part of being a photographer. But is that really what counts?
What about photography as an art form? Does framing your shot just right, making artistic decisions along the way, make you a photographer? I personally think so. However, some of the best shots can happen seemingly by accident, and you only end up realising what you shot when you go through it all after a shoot. So was there artistic intent in those "accidental" shots? Seemingly not. But that doesn't mean that what you have produced isn't photography. Artistic intent is nice and all, but is it essential for good photography? Probably not.
So you don't have to have fancy equipment, you don't have to be incredibly knowledgable about the subject, and you don't necessarily need artistic intent in order to be a photographer. What about skill? Do you at least have to be good at photography in order to be a photographer? Again, the answer is a clear maybe. Yes, it helps if you are actually good at photography and yes, there is an element of talent involved, as there is in almost everything, but these skills can be acquired. You might just be starting out as a photographer and might not be very good yet (I know I wasn't for the longest time and I'm still not amazing on most days), but you will get there. Practice makes perfect. And perfection is not a requirement for photography. Some of the most iconic photographs weren't even taken by someone who knew what he or she was doing. They just saw a moment, a frame, and went for it. So, sadly, skill is also not quite it.
Right, what is it then? I say it is passion. I think that anyone who has a genuine passion for photography is a photographer. It doesn't matter whether you are shooting with your phone and you have no idea what the heck you are doing, as long as you enjoy what you are doing. And you know, all the other stuff, like getting good equipment, becoming technically familiar with photography, and realising that there is an artistic side to it all, most likely comes along as you go. But what distinguishes you from all those people with their selfies and random food pictures is that you actually enjoy photography. You don't take pictures just because of the likes and the praise you might get, you take them because you love it. You love the process. You love going out for a random shoot. You love looking at other people's photography and you love improving your own.
That's what makes us photographers: our passion.