At some point, you’ll find it useful to decide just what kind of photographer you are. Are you serious or casual? Plan on going professional, or content to remain an amateur? You’ve got money to burn, or you want/need to keep it on the cheap? Just as importantly, what do you want to shoot? Kids? Animals? Sports? Cars? Landscapes? Or do you have not even the remotest idea what kind of photographer you are?
These aren’t just rhetorical questions (far be it from me, the one-time English major…). They’re actually important for a number of reasons.
Not least of these is equipment. The requirements, usually in lenses, but sometimes also in bodies and accessories, will be much different for someone in the habit of shooting architecture than they’d be for someone who treks to the track every weekend for shots of the ponies or the stock cars.
But of course, gear only gets you so far. You’ll also need to do a fair amount of study and training. If you plan on being self-taught, your answers to these questions might guide you to one book or website over another; if you’re planning on learning from a human being, those same answers will guide you to taking certain types of classes, or in finding a photographer to shadow or take on as a mentor.
And even once you’ve got your gear and a fair amount of training/experience under your belt, you’re not done yet. There’s still the matter of developing your style. We’ll be taking up some tips on doing just that in the days ahead, but bear in mind that part of how we arrive at our own style, often as not, is by observing others who do what we’d like to be doing, and learning from them. So if you fancy yourself a fashion photographer, you might start with Herb Ritts; a street photographer, Gary Winograd; a photojournalist, Sebastiao Salgado. Others’ work can be an inspiration, a point of departure, or a series of object lessons in what we do or don’t want out of our photography.
Incidentally, if you’re not sure what kind of photographer you are or would like to be, or if you feel like assigning yourself a “category” is somehow pigeonholing yourself, know that that’s okay too. Just be aware that even being a Jack or Jill of all trades carries with it its own set of requirements, and sometimes even bigger challenges; you probably won’t be able to get away with having only one lens in your kit, for instance, and you may find it a bit more of a challenge figuring out from whom to learn. On the other hand, your options are limitless, since you’re free to just wander from day to day, pointing your camera wherever your eye leads you.
Regardless of where you fall on any of these criteria – and really, it’s got to be a plural, since all the different things we “are” as photographers end up looking like a really complicated Venn diagram with many, many points of intersection – don’t feel as though you need to explain, much less justify, it to anyone. This is for you, and you alone. Think of it as something that’s just one more thing in your mental toolkit. Your choices don’t make you a better photographer than the next person, but neither do they diminish you.
For a humorous take on this, check out Gordon Lewis’ What Type of Photographer Are You? on Shutterfinger (and check out the rest of his blog while you’re there… you’ll thank me later).
And by way of a postscript, what kind of photographer are you?