No such thing as a professional photographer by Mimika Cooney
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Monday, June 03, 2013
By Mimika Cooney
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Last week Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said: “There’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore.” Say what? As expected, it created a huge backlash from many pro photographers from around the world who like me, felt insulted by her comment. “How dare someone ignorant to the professional make such an insulting and condescending comment?” In context, it related to the fallout surrounding Flickr’s massive updates around changes to Pro user accounts since Yahoo has now acquired Flickr. Also in the British news this week was that after 24 years of serving as the country’s biggest photographic convention, ‘Focus on Imaging’ this past year was the very last. This is a huge shock for photographers who came to rely on the annual show to get up to date with the latest industry news, equipment and education. Time to usher in a new era.



With the advent of new technologies in digital cameras it seems like everyone and his aunty is a professional these days. The general public has developed this weird assumption that cameras take photos, not people. I’ve lost count of the number of times that someone has come up to me at a wedding or an event I was photographing and said “wow that’s a great camera it must take great pictures!" Grrr. C’mon tell me you’ve heard it before right? In the news this week the Chicago Sun-Times, the city’s oldest daily newspaper, made a controversial move by firing its entire photography staff. Instead it's offering reporters lessons in “iPhone photography basics”. As stated the newspaper’s gamble on iPhone-powered photography for its publication can be said to reflect the current state of the market. Since the barrier to entry has lowered significantly compared to ten years ago, where it took a good chunk of change to buy a decent camera, today the line has blurred. Times have changed. The equipment is not enough to differentiate us anymore. But let’s think about it for a moment... What makes a professional photographer? Don’t get me wrong, I love my gadgets especially my iPhone. They’ve created new levels of opportunity than were ever possible before. The fact that my two-year-old knows how to take photos on my phone is a two edged sword. It’s great that the technology is so seamless and user friendly, but it has watered down the perceived value of what a professional photographer does.



In the book “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfiled he talks about the differences between amateurs and professionals...   The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps. To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation. The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time. The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week. The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.   I find this so inspiring and encouraging. No matter what the world says about the state of the industry, I know I’ve committed my life’s work to being a creative visionary. My vision is expressed through capturing the lives of others, and I know that in the years to come they will become priceless memories. This always rings home when I look through the work of artists now passed, like Henri Cartier Bresson. He is famous for capturing “the decisive moment”. We can never relive days gone by and his work gives us a window into human history. Not many people talk about the camera he used, but more about the essence of his work.



But romantics aside, what does this mean for us 21st century photographers? The playing fields have changed. We have to think beyond ownership to survive. Owning a camera is not a defining factor of professionalism. We need to take it further. Think about it.... What can you do to separate yourself so that potential clients are drawn to you? To quote Seth Godin “we now live in the connection” economy which means it’s more important now than ever to ‘connect’ with our audience. We need to give them a reason to choose us, our style, our values and what we stand for. If we can articulate the WHY we make photography our life’s work, then maybe; just maybe we can make a difference. We need to show our VALUE. Go out and create ART!


Here are my Tips for Standing out in a Busy Crowd....

  1) Make sure you have a really clear headshot of yourself on your website. Give clients a face to a name. Better yet, create a video with you at work kind of like “A day in my life” etc.   2) Make sure you “show some skin”. Let your audience into who you are, what you like to do, what moves you. You’ll be surprised how you will connect with like-minded individuals who will feel an affinity for you.   3) Find an emotional need and fill it. Just because your neighbor shoots school sports, and you think there is easy money it (it’s never easy), doesn’t mean there’s a need for another sports photographer. People have inherent needs based on their emotions; “I need to feel good”, “I need to remember my family the way we are right now”, “I need a confidence boost”. These are real, subconscious needs that as humans we will put aside logic and spend an illogical amount of money to acquire.   So believe in yourself, you are worth it. Don’t doubt your dreams. You can do what you love and be paid for living it!  
{Big hugs}



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