9 things that make a photographer

I struggled a bit about what to write first in this new blog/portfolio website that doesn't sound obnoxious like I'm-a-professional-I-know-things-better because, I DON'T know everything but yet confident to call myself a 'photographer'.

As the saying go, "having an expensive camera doesn't make you a photographer".  This I agree but also I do not want to hold on to those words so deeply because I think ALL photographers start from somewhere and that means first owning a camera, on most cases.  I also like sewing but I didn't know how to sew until I got my sewing machine. Same does to playing a guitar, you need to get a guitar first, the next step is another issue.

However, sometimes I wish there was another name for photographers like how people who produce useful metal equipment are called 'blacksmiths' and not 'metal makers' or people who cut hairs are called 'barber' and not 'hair cutters'.  The word photographers in a general perspective makes ANYONE a photographer especially at this day and age where ANYONE of any gender and age can just point and press a button to take a photo.  Even a toddler can take photographs these days.  There were many times when my own toddler left evidence of his selfies on my smart phone.  So let's just agree for a moment that 'photographer' means people who consistently take photographs of certain quality and look using SLRs.  You may call 'professional photographer' but that's for another article. For now, let's also include amateur/freelance/hobbyist photographers. 

So, without further beating around the bush, here are 9 'what makes a photographer' list according to me.

1. Photographers are patient

Patience: It was end of winter going to spring of 2015 and it was 6 degrees in this picture. A friend who visited from Malaysia was so cold she just hid in the car waiting for me to finish this shot with a tripod and I used a remote shutter. I'm seen here wearing a wool cardigan but I didn't have gloves. Wow was I freezing! I set this on long shutter and with just a pop up flash. Location: Gwangalli Beach, Busan (one of my favourite night view location)
Well, at least most of the time.  It's not just about pointing and shooting because that would mean a mere smart phone could already do the job.  Now, I'm not denying the capability of high end smart phones nowadays. It's fast, its light and its with you all the time. You can share in your social media in a blink of an eye. Yes, its fast! However, we photographers are patient to take the time that shot. Whether its a scenery or your other half in front of that scene, we take our time.  I can't tell you how many times I've been told off for being 'too slow' by my better half at taking and retaking shots.  
Okay...I know we still need to be fast and that's what also make a good photographer but sometimes we need time to assess everything first.  What if we have the camera in the bag or if we have the wrong lens on?  So we take our time and practise patience because we care.  Next point.

2. Photographers care
About a lot of things.  Lighting and sharpness is just 2 main criteria.  How about rule of thirds, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, noise, distractions and focal length?  All these things matter because we want to be good at it. We want to be more than just point and shoot with auto mode.  We want pow and wow factor in our photos if we can help it.  What if we have a frowning subject? Angry tot? Double chin?  If we don't get it right, we WILL be disappointed at ourselves.  That goes to the next point..

3. Photographer are critics
I've known a chef and I asked him if he is a critic when it comes to other people's cooking.  This is thanks to all those cooking competition (or so they call reality tv) shows.  He denied it unless its something he does really well like he would not be critical when it comes to Asian food because its not his strength.  I am both am admirer AND a critic.  I admire so many works of other photographers but when it comes to something that I already do well myself, I'm critical.  Leaving selfies apart, I cringe at the sight of people's body part cut off at odd places, people smack in the centre of a scenery picture, over edited photo shopping, super blurred skin and illuminated like their face is a glow stick and peace signs - oh peace sign in EVERY single photo! Some photos can be okay but I don't understand some can be just plain bad!

If a photo looks like a mere point and shoot when it was said to be taken with a DSLR, it makes me cringe.  If a subject in a photo is squinting, I already doubt the photographer.  I'd always doubt myself because there are so many good photographers are out there and it can be seen in their works.  I'm always trying to improve my sharpness, depth, composition, lighting and even the story but one time I saw a portrait photography page of someone and it looked like the person have taken quite a number of photos of people and babies and also received complements.  The lighting were either harsh or partial, subjects were squinting, photos were blurred and there was no depth of field in the photos and looked like any point and shoot.  I'm guessing it was just a kit lens but my photos didn't look that bad even when I started with a kit lens.    We all know that good cooks present their best dishes and even professional photographers only show their best photos, so why did it look like the photographer just have bad photos or never even picked the good ones for show?  Anyway, it didn't take me long to move along and forget I saw those bad photos.  I chose to focus on criticising myself.

I AM my WORST critic.  I hate how a my photos would turn out blurry, under or overexposed, or lack depth and just overall distasteful.  I would hate it that I didn't take my time.  I would hate it how I rushed and settled for 'okay' and I would hate it that I blame the weather or didn't bring an accessory of some sort that would've made the shot perfect.  I also hate it if I have to do too much editing on the photo due to my lack of skill or equipment.

4. Photographers don't take fluffy complements
I am also a crocheter and knitter.  I don't really take in compliments about how cute or how pretty my works are.  I care more about how much skill and effort I used to finish a job. I also like to attach a story to my works like who is it for or how I came up with the idea or I made it every time my family goes to sleep or when I was in the subway train.

As a photographer, my aim is not to take photos that looks better than the photos that you take with your smart phone, point and shoot or your own or your uncle's DSLR.  My aim is to WOW you and be proud to show off the photos.  I want to make you look beautiful and real.  With that, photographers don't listen to fluffy complements that is generic in nature like, "your photos are pretty" or "that's cute" or "nice photos".  We appreciate those but we prefer to be recognized for our talents, ability and overall effort in taking that shot.  It's much more meaningful if our photos can carry story and emotion.  An interesting photograph brings out the best out of a plain Jane or someone who think they 'can't be photogenic'.  A boring scenery can pop out something if the framing is right.  Sometimes its luck, sometimes its skill but all in all, we like being recognized for our journey and pain in getting that one shot. If it was a simple story, we like it that we are appreciated for our value in accumulating skill and experience to get such a simple shot perfect.  When we pay for our tools and equipment, even that has a story of price and pain. 

5. Photographers always try and learn new things
The world of DSLR photography is always growing and its impossible to keep up with all of it at once.  Otherwise, how would photography magazines keep having new subjects to talk about?  When I first got my DSLR in 2008 after previously owned a film SLR and point and shoot digital camera, I tried all sorts of photography like portrait, landscape (the two commons ones) and also sunsets, water motion, night photos and even fast shutter water drop.  I then went on to more difficult ones like low key.  We keep trying different technics and adding different accessories and with Youtube it has become easier and easier to learn without paying for classes or courses. The pinch were when we spend to buy new equipment just to try the new things that were not possible without new equipment.  When I had learnt that I had already done what everything my Nikon D3100 could do I decided to upgrade to D5300.  For me it was not easy because my spouse had to support me and it was not easy too explain to a non-photographer like him that I needed to upgrade but finally we managed. Phew! For some of you, it may come from your salary entirely (the case for my D3100) and that's not an easy decision.  A photographer must always try new things or else will get bored and soon enough you're going to find your equipment collecting dust somewhere in the corner because its 'too bulky to carry'.

6. Photographers don't mind going 'bulky'
If I'm traveling with my family, I always bring minimum amount of equipment with me.  The least I need to go with is the camera body and my 18-200mm lens, which still tend to be heavy but I have a reliable camera cover that allows me to just put in in the backpack without having to carry the actual camera bag.  If we're traveling by car, I would take whatever I think I would need including my the heavy duty tripod so that just in case I need it, I have it all the time.  This is my routine which is on top of food, water and extra change for our day trip! I can't deny that sometimes it gets overwhelming which was why I didn't bring my DSLR when we went home to our home country for summer vacation which I now regret because my nephew was born and I didn't take beautiful photographs of him as a newborn.  But then again it was a difficult flight because I had to travel for 12 hours with both my kids alone and although we travelled back to Busan with their dad, it was a horrendous 25 hour door to door journey! There are instances when I DO leave my equipment at home or the hotel because I shift my focus away from photography for a while or its just to impractical like going to the amusement park and having a swim at the beach. 

Photographers assess what equipment to bring for the journey or for a photo shoot.  If they can't make up their mind, they will bring everything possible.  Just like a soldier going for battle, wouldn't you think that one would carry all possible weapon to, 'just in case'?  Thus, we don't mind having bulky equipment on our shoulders because we may need it.  If we end up not taking any great shots, well its fine too.

7. Photographers need to travel
Anyone can be a good photographer aka picture taker by just taking photos around the house or their backyard or around their town.  It doesn't take a long time for beginner photographers to notice that their photos are just the same old images when they don't actually get out of town.  I can't deny that there are many things to try without going out of town like light painting, shaped bokeh, self portraits, children's photos, macro photos and water drop.  But it doesn't really take that long to try all of those. Probably a year?  Then what after that? Living near the beach is a treat for me because there are beautiful scenery but as a stay at home mom, it didn't take long for me notice that I didn't have other subject that I didn't take photo of other than the occasional beautiful sunset from our apartment or a big typhoon rampaging through the sea.  Then came the occasional parties.  It became boring and uninspiring so I put away the camera safely until we get to take a weekend trip which we usually do when the time allows.  Photographers have the need to travel regularly to be inspired again.  One of the reason I decided to go professional was because I wanted to take photos of more people other than my own families and friends.  As much as I love and want to document Korea (Korean drama addict alert), I also want to document all possible expressions of other people, nationality and background and Busan is a perfect place to begin.  The English speaking community is more or less limited to foreigners in Busan and they don't come from only one country.  They come from North America, South America, Europe, Africa and all over Asia.  Although we are not many compared to those in Seoul, we are pretty much from everywhere.  If I look at it that way, it sure does sound like I don't have to travel very far but its also an effort to go and find and meet people since they don't all live next door to you.

8. Photographers always has a reason to have more equipment e.g. lenses
Disclaimer: You CAN be a good photographer without many equipment. YES, you CAN! Howeverrrr....photographers always find reason to have more lenses, accessories or a SECOND camera! Yes, its not cheap to get all of those but let's think about another hobby for a while.  I have a friend who LOVES fishing and he has a few fishing rod.  One of his most expensive fishing rod is worth USD2000! For those who don't go fishing like me, you may think A freakin' FISHING ROD??! Now, how about bakers? Oven and electric mixers can cost about a few thousand dollars too.  I'm also sew and my sewing machine is not expensive but it was USD200 for a small machine and I have to keep buying fabric, thread and other accessories if I wanted to ever sew, else I'm not going to make something out of just the machine, right? Okay, one more hobby, like gaming.  If you're a serious gamer, you're not going to settle for just a laptop right? You'd want to go for the fastest computer or console, the best graphic, best controls, best games and what not, right? Allow me to list the other hardware like extra monitors, headphones and a good table and chair.  You wouldn't want to sit on a cheap, hard, static chair for hours on end when you're gaming.  As a knitter/crocheter, oh, don't get me started on that one. I have expensive yarn and needles stashed somewhere for that!

Photography is a hobby known for being expensive.  That is true but not entirely.  It's actually affordable to start especially if you manage to find good second had cameras, which come by quite regularly when beginners choose to upgrade to mid or professional level cameras, they would sell their entry levels and go for the next level.  That's what I did to my Nikon D3100 for a D5300 (I would have chosen D7x00 range but for the price, D5300 is pretty close to the performance of its pro-sister).  After the D3100, I purchased a Nikkor 50mm lens because it was affordable and much later I purchased a second hand Nikkor 18-200mm aka walkabout lens.

For me, it became hard for me to become a better photographer with only an entry level and kit lens because I felt that I have learned and done every thing possible and came with limitations.  The lack came in terms of ISO performance, limit in focal length, aperture size and even wifi capability, which came really handy at times. 

I would prefer to write about this in more detail next time.  For now, let's ponder and understand how photographers do not feel at ease about having enough accessories.  I moved into flash photography and got a manual flash because its more affordable but not long after I also think I need TTL flash! My next lens on the affordable side would be a prime Nikkor 85mm 1.8g lens which is a buzz among Nikon users now.  Its in my wish list and hope I can get them next year.

So the thing is, we don't have to get all of them at once.  We can start little and build from there.  Its also viable to resell and buy new or used things.  Although I must say lenses lose value when you try to resell but if its a good lens, you'd never want to let it go.

9. Its okay, I don't need a photo
Last on my list is, photographers don't mind not having a photo taken with their own DSLR.  For me I rather have a good photo then a blurry, out of focus, awkward framing photo taken by someone else with my own DSLR.  I rather take a good self portrait with my timer/remote shutter and tripod than ask someone else to do it for me.  My not so photography savvy spouse is a perfect example.  He would take blurred photos of me or the kids and if its a perfect shot, its rare.  I would teach him but he is happy with his Iphone.  And then come the occasion where DSLR carrying strangers would volunteer to take our family photo with my own DSLR and it would turn out so bad, 100% of the time! That's why I carry a tripod sometimes and most of our better family photos were taken with a tripod and with the timer.  The timer helps my kids to focus their attention to the lens too! When that 10 second timer goes off, they just look at the blinking light for a moment and then we would have almost perfect family photo, with some smiles.  Not every time though, so we try a few shots.  I think all photographers do not mind not having their faces in their photos.  I rarely care about that unless its a really special and then I would carefully pre-set my camera and instruct my lovely patient (hopefully) partner to take the shot.  If not, well, the Iphone is not bad too.

Call the photography police! Photography crime has just been committed!!
This is my photo taken with my DSLR by my better half.
I guess he was focusing on the group behind???
I politely let the ajoshi take our picture. Never mind the odd framing.
How we have cut off feet, that's how much I want to cut off
people walking around with expensive cameras but don't learn proper framing.
So, there you are. 9 things that make a photographer.  Do you agree with all of them or do you have more in your mind. Leave a comment!


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About Me

About Me
Hello, I am Laura and a photographer in Busan, South Korea. Making beautiful portraits of people is my long time dream and passion. My works include working with singles, couples, families, children, babies and birthdays. Let me help you create lasting memories. 안녕하세요. 저는 로라라고 부산에 사진 작가 입니다. 저의 오랜 꿈과 그리움은 사람들의 아름다운 사진을 찍는 것입니다. 솔로와 커플과 가족과 어린이든의 사진을 찍을수 있습니다. 영원한 기억을 만들어 드릴게요.


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