My responses to “9 Warning Signs of an Amateur Artist”

The post below this, original article at

Note – I am coming from the position of a lifelong photographer, who started with Brownies, Instamatics, Polaroids as a child and graduated to a Yashica SLR as a teen.   I kept my completely manual, very heavy, much loved SLR till the late 90’s when I began working at home selling on Ebay full time and realized I needed a digital camera and bought my first Sony ‘advanced’ camera and then a series of Cybershots after that for their amazing low light and video ability. And because low light and night photography is my passion, I added a Sony Alpha DSLR to my collection last year to be able to capture better night photos for my personal use, fell back in love with manual focus and settings and raw film, then upgraded my pocket camera to a Sony RX100 so I would always have a DSLR quality camera with me.  And after uploading probably 100,000+ photos to facebook (they’ve stopped showing the count now, my last count as 90,000, lol) I realized I’d like to try and make a living from my passion.

1. Amateur Artists wait for Inspiration

Inspiration is everywhere, especially when you can carry one or more cameras with you all the time in your pocket or purse.  It’s in your home, your neighborhood, and just about everywhere in New Orleans.  It doesn’t have to be beautiful or grand, it’s all about learning to see the constant photo ops, especially the ones others don’t notice.  Start with shooting what you love, whether it’s your cat, your child, your city and shoot for yourself, your interests and expertise will expand with your experience and your desire to learn and advance your creativity through technical skills.

2. Amateur Artists work until something else comes up

If you do seriously want to become professional at any home business you do have to set some sort of schedule.  Working at home is very difficult, there are distractions everywhere.  Some people need it to be a more formal schedule, others go more by time and quantity of what they want to get done each day and are more flexible.  If you don’t treat it as a ‘job’ it ill always just be a ‘hobby’.  And photography can get to be a very expensive hobby very quickly.  It’s the same theory on writing, do it every day whether you think it’s good or not.  Your bad shoots will help you learn what not to do.  It’s digital film, it’s free, why not?

3. Amateur Artists are constantly changing their focus

I disagree with this somewhat because I am right in the midst of the higher learning curve with both an upgrade to a DSLR and because I am spending a lot of time re-learning Photoshop ‘the correct way’, because PS is constantly changing, and I’ve changed from Aperture to Lightroom.  I am also getting out and traveling more personally and am relatively new to New Orleans so everything is interesting to me right now.  I am also rediscovering my love of black and white photography and macro photography, so I’m doing a lot of experimenting but I feel I am narrowing in on my own personal ‘style’.

4. Amateur Artists believe that if they build it, you will come

This is really the hardest part for most creatives of any sort, self promotion.  I’ve found the easiest place to begin is by showing people your work and making yourself accountable by telling others you are starting an actual business, even if you’re not sure how to begin.  And from the many CreativeLive classes and tons of research I’ve done, the hardest part is to start charging for your work, even if it’s not very much, it makes you and others value your work more.  And starts you off on the road to becoming ‘professional’.  I used to believe you had to give up your personal style to be a professional creative, and that is one of the things that kept me from doing anything creatively for a living, because I thought it would make me hate it and drain my creativity. But now I realize that your personal style is what people want from you, not just a snapshot.  Compare it to a dry essay on a subject and a fictional book on the the same subject, or a book written by a true aficionado. Anyone can shoot a photo of something with the same camera you use, but no one has your ‘eye’ or your creative sense.  Be unique but you have to put yourself out there so others can see your work.

5. Amateur Artists believe that success will happen quickly

I agree with most of this, and you must learn both the technical basics as well as what your own style is, you can’t just buy a full frame camera and think that’s all you need to be a photographer.  Great photographers can take interesting and beautiful photos with anything from an iphone (which is not professional but fun), to an APS-C DSLR, which is where most people begin (and many remain due to price, weight, personal preference,etc).  I’ve heard it said that if someone is a great photographer but not a good business person they will probably not make it in professional photography.  An adequate photographer who is a great business person will actually do much better, as unfair as that seems.  So get out there and do and present yourself to the world, but I don’t believe that anyone can become a real ‘artist’ overnight.  Creativity is natural for some, but it usually comes over time and love of your art.

6. Amateur Artists believe they don’t need schedules or organization

See question two… but every business needs organization ad some degree of professionalism, record keeping, storage and photo organization… there are the evils of taxes, the joys of business expense deductions, but you have to keep records for your annual, quarterly taxes, etc.  And you must keep client records for portraiture, get model releases, and know where to find them when you need them.

7.  Amateur Artists never finish their work

For paid assignments, I agree, professionals have to learn what is ‘good enough’ and are under time constraints.  Perfectionism is another word for OCD and counterproductive to getting anything done in real live (I know this because I am a reformed perfectionist)  But I always have personal projects ongoing which are just for me, but yep, even with personal projects you need to stop tweaking after a reasonable time, because that is a bottomless time pit that is so easy to fall into and difficult to get out of.  With non-destructive programs like Lightroom you can change things literally a million times.  It’s funny because sometimes I’ll be less than happy with a photo (not for a paid shoot) but often it’s for an event and the only shot I have that’s representative of someone at a parade or a show, and I spend way too much time tweaking it and put it out on facebook or flickr and it’s someone’s favorite photo.  So you can spend much more time worrying about something you think isn’t perfect, but it captures a funny or personal moment well  and often that’s more important than being in perfect focus (though without good focus you often don’t have a usable picture) or getting the contrast just exactly right…

8. Amateur Artists are too busy learning to do anything

I am torn on this one also because I’ve been heavily studying CreativeLive classes, and several technical program manuals and kind of flooding my brain, but that’s how I work. I don’t retain everything but it exposes me to things I hadn’t realized I might benefit by learning about.  But I’m also going out and shooting and when I am stumped on something I research it and figure it out and try and move on.  But learning is infinite and you can’t wait until you know how to do ‘everything’ before you start, start shooting and learn what you need as you go.  And once you feel comfortable and are getting consistent results that are close to what you feel are acceptable, then you can start refining your knowledge.  But you have to start, real world experience always trumps book smarts.  You can be technically educated and be a terrible photographer because you haven’t learned the basics of composition, subject and timing.

9. Amateur Artists isolate themselves from the artist community

True.  I think this can work both ways.  You can either obsess over other people’s work and think you will never be good enough and shouldn’t even try, or your vision is so narrow you can only see your own work.  Both are crippling.  Don’t copy others works, but see what others do, everyone’s vision is unique.  It never hurts to be ‘inspired’ by others works, subjects and styles.  Put your work on facebook, be open to both compliments and criticism, you’d be surprised what people compliment you on that you didn’t think was that great.  Try and analyze why people like it.  Look at photography books, magazines, websites.  Join peer and professional groups.  Networking is one of the best ways to expose your work to others and discover avenues you never knew existed.

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