Confessions of a So-Called PRO. by David duChemin

Shot in Senegal. Long shutter speed. Dawn. Through the windshield. Moments before driver drove off the road, through the ditch and stalled in the bushes.

A while back I wrote a piece about the “I’m only an amateur” mentality. In brief it was an unashamed rally call to photographers everywhere to stop seeing themselves as merely an enthusiast, not yet in the hallowed halls of the professional, and therefore not “really” a photographer. Rubbish. But this is not that pep talk. This is the reverse, the one that, I hope will remind you that this status to which so many aspire, this notion of a higher echelon occupied by the Professional, is equally rubbish. I am an unabashed champion of the amateur, the one who does this for the love of it, and the idea of professionals being better, or creating better work, has to go. I discourage non-professionals from saying, “I’m just an amateur” but I cringe as much when I hear people throw the term “professional” around as though it means something more than it does.

So to disabuse you of the notion, let me be as transparent as possible.

I make a living as a photographer and a photography teacher. I create work I love, and work that my clients love. Sometimes I get paid well for it, sometimes I get paid nothing. That paycheque doesn’t necessarily mean my work is good, and it sure as Kodak doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better work than anything my non-professional friends create. But it gets worse, folks:

I don’t clean my sensor as much as I ought to, and I fear the times I have to. So I blow the damn thing out with canned air. It works, but I don’t recommend it.

I often leave my ISO dangerously high. I get more email about why I shot something at ISO 800 than anything else and that tells me (a) I should get my act together and (b) y’all need to lighten up on the whole ISO issue.

I rarely use lens caps, often lose filters, and am known for throwing a lens in a bag without an end cap. I have other friends who change lenses with one under the arm, another between the knees and a camera body flailing wildly about in order to catch as much dust as possible.

I have more confidence in my ability to hand-hold a shot at 1/30 than I ought to have and still have yet to learn from this. You’d think with my ridiculously high ISOs and my total unwillingness to close my aperture, I’d have plenty of latitude with this, but you’d be wrong.

I get emails about colour-calibration and printing methods and am forced to reply with a vague, “go ask Vincent Versace” because I do one of two things, I give the clients the files and their own pre-press guys do the work, or I send it to mPix (for prints) or Artistic Photo Canvas (for canvas) and they just make it look great.

People ask me about how to use their flash in two groups balanced with ambient and I stare awkwardly at them and give them Joe McNally’s email address or home phone number and beg them to (a) never tell Joe I sent them and (b) never to speak of this ever again.

I have long forgotten everything I knew about the zone system and now expose purely in reverse. Shoot first, look at the histogram, then get it right, instead of the way I learn which was the more sensible “meter twice, shoot once.”

My eyes gloss over when people start talking about channel-specific curves adjustments in Photoshop or Keywording in Lightroom. I should know this stuff. But I just want to make images, man.

I’ve never used a tilt/shift lens and while I aim to change that it seems a pro ought to be able to do that. Same for the 4×5 field camera I recently bought. Took me a day to figure out how to load the film. Then I got distracted. For now it just looks cool. Last time it was used in a shoot it was only a prop.

I carry my tripod. An expensive one at that. And while I am really get much better at using it when I ought to, I still prefer to shoot blurry images than set the darn thing up. Might as well leave it at home half the time, but a “pro” wouldn’t do that.

I love shallow depth of field. The shallower the better, even if that means losing important stuff to the blur. Of course I think about that afterwards, and then regret that 1.2 aperture, but I get greedy with my bokeh.

I hate the word bokeh. A pro ought to be able to use that word with a straight face, I just feel like I’m trying too hard. My images don’t so much have bokeh as large sections of fuzzy bits.

I still shoot twenty frames before realizing that the EV compensation I cranked up is still cranked up and I’ve hopelessly lost good images to the blinkies.

And really, a so-called pro should know better. Except we don’t and the ones that say they do are lying. Thing is, I’d rather get so distracted by the things I am shooting, and lose the odd shot to my distraction and crappy exposure, or, God forbid, a high ISO, than get distracted by the tech-stuff and those things a pro “ought” to be doing, and never see the moments, never experience the wonder. Does it have to be one or the other? Of course not, but then I’ve only been shooting for 20 years so I’m still new at this, easily distracted, still in love with images more than gear (and man, do I love my gear!). I’m still learning, and the best photographers – pro or otherwise –  are too. And more to the point, I’m making images that I love. Craft matters,  with apologies to Ansel Adams, who said there’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept, there is:  a fuzzy image of a fuzzy concept. Then it’s just total crap.

Folks, confession is good for the soul. Who cares if you’re a pro or not? We’re all learning, all getting better at this. As my friend Sabrina Henry wrote recently, it might just be that defining moments are more important than decisive ones.

So to the amateur out there, I’m reminding you, you aren’t “just an amateur.” To the pro, you’re still “just a photographer.” And to all of us, an invitation to let the bad air out. Got a photographic confession? The comments are open.


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