Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Difference Between Amateur & Pro

Everyone is a photographer these days. Don’t believe me? Take a look around. Everywhere you go there is someone taking a photo either with a "real" camera or their cell phone. Take a look online and see the sheer abundance of photos out there. Whether they are on a photographer’s own web site or on social media sites like Facebook or Instagram, there is no shortage of photographs out there.
Spending some time on Facebook started me thinking about this fact. And the fact is that while there is no shortage of photos online, really high quality professional photographs are amongst a small percentage of them. I find it so frustrating to sift through my cluttered newsfeed to find those awe inspiring photographs that get me excited about photography and motivate me to get out there and shoot. I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of those quality photographs online, just that they are pretty well outnumbered by the poor/mediocre photographs.

Many photographers, both old and new, feel like the abundance of photos lessens their value both dollar wise and visually. But I don’t believe that to be entirely true. Monetarily yes, the pro market has been greatly affected by this over saturation. But that is a subject all its own. As far as a photo’s visual worth though, I believe that professional quality images are appreciated more now than ever before and by a wider range of audience. There are so many mundane photos out there that when a truly exceptional one is displayed it can be appreciated on a deeper level by more people than ever before. There are so many people that now take photos themselves thanks to cell phone technology and because of this people that normally would have no photographic experience now do. Many of these casual shooters have now tried to capture similar photo themselves and failed, and thus now have a better appreciation of how difficult it can be to capture a truly outstanding image. Of course, some of those people may think the image is exceptional because of the photographer had used a better camera, which may or may not be true. But that perception has always been around. Some things don’t change.

So what is the difference between professional and amateur? The obvious and literal difference is that a pro gets paid for his work and by standard definition, they make more than half their income via photography. That puts me at the semi-professional category I guess, but I hate that term. I prefer the term part time pro, as semi pro sounds like the images may only be semi high quality. That is not the case most part time pros. But just because you don’t make money from your photography, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to capture anything less than professional quality photographs. Especially since your interest in photography is at such a level that you somehow found this blog post. This post is not about becoming a paid professional photographer, but rather to inspire you to raise the quality of your photographs to a more professional level.

Here are some tips to help you achieve awe inspiring, professional quality photographs:

 Learn About Photography
Amateurs rely on their camera’s auto setting sand hope for the best. Pros choose which setting to use with purpose, even when they do choose to use an automatic mode. Learn as much about photography as possible. Learn about exposure, composition, depth of field, and all the basics. Then you will be able to choose your settings with purpose to render predictable and consistent results. Books, magazines, forums, blogs, and other online resources feature an abundance of learning opportunities.

 Left: Macro photography requires a special set of skills. Once learned, images like this are possible. This is true of all aspects & genres of photography. Luckily, the knowledge is readily available for those willing to learn.

Work Your Subject
Amateurs take a photo and move on. Pros explore a subject fully before moving on. If you find a special subject, spend some time with it to capture the best possible photograph, or even a series of photos. Shoot from different angles, try different lenses and camera settings. Try different compositions. Most pros "work" their subject in the field and capture many different images of the same subject. Most amateurs take that one snapshot from the spot they first spotted the subject and then move on. For example, amateurs often shoot a single snapshot of a flower from a standing perspective above the flower instead of getting down on its level and working the subject for best composition and background. Or they will just shoot a sunset from the side of the road with no thought to composition and a foreground subject, and then move on. Which leads me to the next tip:

Above: I shot many variations of these petunias. This was a favorite from the series captured using my Lensbaby lens for the unusual bokeh.

Not move on, but move around the scene or subject. Amateurs take a photo wherever they come upon it. Pros knows that the location you noticed your subject from may not be the best spot to photograph from. Next time you see a photographic subject, feel free to take that initial snapshot but then move. Don’t move on, but move to another vantage point. Not only to work your subject as in the tip above, but also to change perspective and point of view. Sometimes that involves just moving a few feet, and sometimes it involves getting in a vehicle and moving a few miles.

 Left: Here I chose a low angle to photograph this beautiful convovulus flower. Because this flower in a plant box, I was also able to move the box around to render the most pleasing background.

Share Only Your Best
Amateurs post their best, their worst, and everything in between. Pros share only their best. It has been said over the years that the main difference between pros and amateurs is editing. And while that may be an over simplistic statement, it is definitely a strong contributing factor.. Misfocused, improperly exposed, poorly lit and composed photographs have no place in an artist’s portfolio. Also avoid posting too many variations of an image, with only small differences between them. It just weakens the strongest image in the series by boring your viewer. Post only your very best.

 Right: This image of petunias is a favorite of mine from this year. There were a few other similar variations, but this one was the best quality and most pleasing to me.

Use Professional / High Quality Gear
Pros typically use more advanced cameras loaded with professional features. Amateurs tend to use compacts, cell phones, or simpler DSLRs. But not all pros use heavy professional cameras, some chose to use lighter consumer / enthusiast level cameras and some even shoot with cell phones. It has been said that any camera a professional chooses to shoot with is a professional camera. It’s true, to a degree. But it can’t be denied that a camera that offers advanced features can make capturing great images easier just by offering the user more options.
Start with whatever camera you already have and go from there. Build up your skills a bit and then decide what features you would like in your next camera. If you have no camera, I recommend getting on with interchangeable lenses, either a DSLR or one of those neat little mirrorless models like I now use.
Above: This image of leaves amongst a background of out of focus highlights glinting off ice covered branches was only possible by using a high quality telephoto lens with a wide aperture. This image would not have been possible to capture using a cell phone due the special bokeh that this lens rendered.

I could easily go on about other differences, but these are the ones that I think are most important. I hope this blog post inspires you to elevate your photography to professional level quality. If you have any you would like to share, feel free to do so. Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays!

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