It’s a sad truth that many of the individuals – often so-called professionals – among us have a subconscious or a known bias against the amateurs with interests in the field in which they work. I’m talking about those who feel they have the monopoly of the field and believe they are, by rights, superior to all hobbyists and amateurs of that field, simply because they have qualifications, or they’ve done more courses, or they’ve had 5 years more experience, or they have an in-depth understanding of a specialism that they feel puts them above everyone else.
It’s time those people were called out. In some instances I concur that qualifications and training are vital. A good example being I wouldn’t really want to be operated on by a surgeon who does surgery as a hobby. But the vast majority of careers out there which lend themselves to superiors, experts, and professionals, also have a category on the side for the hobbyists and amateurs. Those hobbyists and amateurs may not be interested in trying to make a living from their interest, but if they are, all too often we see them cut down before they are even given a chance to draw breath. All too often, those who’ve undertaken the training hit back at the hobbyists and amateurs with: “You CAN’T call yourself a <insert hobby or job title here>!”
Several problems with this. First up, way to make yourself, the business you’re in and your field of expertise look good! Put down anyone who wants to explore more possibilities or to learn more as amateurs. Sometimes an amateur will approach a professional and ask for guidance, advice, perhaps some assisted shoots just to understand the field better. Again, knocked back. “I’m a professional, I don’t have time to spend teaching someone MY trade!”; “I don’t want an assistant watching the way I work, thank you!”. And then there’s the general attitude of professionals towards amateurs. Is it the risk amateurs pose of taking business away from established professionals? Or is it because they truly believe they are so far above the amateurs it is not up to them to give a helping hand to those starting out?
To be honest, my biggest issue isn’t to do with qualifications, it is more the evidence that experience is completely overlooked. As soon as you state to someone in the same field as you that you’re a hobbyist or an amateur you see the change instantly. Because when they didn’t know you, you were a safe person. When they realised that you have an interest in the career they’ve worked hard for, they feel threatened, and the counteraction to a threat is to make sure that threat means nothing. So time and again, hobbyists and amateurs, regardless of how many years or even decades of experience they have, are told, “Oh no, you’re not <insert job here>, you can’t use that word in relation to your hobby”.
I strongly dispute that. Nobody, not even a professional with ten thousand hours of training or teaching under their belt, has the monopoly on any term they use to describe the important things in their life.
I am a photographer. I have not taken any photography courses. But I am still a photographer.
I am an author. I self-publish, but I am still an author.
I am a yogi with enough knowledge and experience to be able to guide others if needed. I’ve not taken yoga teacher training, and I’ve never been to Bali, but I am still a yogi with my own specialisms.
If, say, I were to go to a dinner party and get asked what I do, I would consider all of these to be reasonable descriptors. The professional photographers/authors/yogis who make a living of these will dispute this.
“Everyone is calling themselves a photographer these days, a 2 year old can do what you do.”
“Photography is a skilled art that requires years of training to understand. You are NOT a photographer, you are a picture-taker.”
“’Photographer’ is a career title. To use it is to con people into believing you know what you’re doing.”
Like I said, excellent way to get more people into the field you apparently love so much…put them down right off the mark.
Let me make something clear. In just about every single field, there are professionals (the ones who have taken courses and gained qualifications), and there are amateurs, and there are hobbyists or enthusiasts.
The point I am making with this article is this: The professionals do not have the exclusive right to use nor to ‘own’ the word used to describe what they do for a living.
“Definition of photographer:: a person who practices photography; especially as a job”
Read this carefully because the definition, while acknowledging ‘photographer’ as a job title, is most certainly not exclusive. A person who takes photographs as a job is more likely to be described as ‘a photographer’, but any person who practices photography is also a photographer.
Just in case it still isn’t clear, let’s look at the definition of “photography”.
“Definition of photography:: the art, process, or job of taking pictures with a camera”
If there were any doubt as to who is and isn’t allowed to say they are a photographer or that they practice photography, that should be cleared up. By definition, every ‘picture-taker’ is a photographer.
What too many of the professionals don’t understand is that, whilst by definition that is the case, the vast majority of people actually would not use the term photographer in any discussion about themselves unless it is a hobby they are passionate about and/or something they have explored, over an extended period of time, and continue to enjoy and develop as an amateur.
Similarly, being a writer, or an author. Those writers with agents, publishers, editors and who tour the world with their books might be the ‘professionals’ in the world of words, but that doesn’t mean that I am not an author because I self-published without an agent, without editors, without touring. I am still an author.
Not only that, but I know I am a good author. I know I write well.
And I know that I am taking some increasingly good photographs.
And I know that I am a skilled yogi.
That’s not to be big-headed, but when you see what amateurs and those flying the field beneath the pros have to deal with when they do try to approach the professional world, you realise that before you can do anything, you have got to believe in yourself. You have to believe that you are good enough. You are good enough in the here and now. You are already good enough. And that applies whether you are an amateur or hobbyist writer, photographer, yogi, artist, hairdresser, make-up-artist, knitter, designer, shop owner…the list is endless.
Yes, there are always going to be people out there better than you. People will pick fault with your work. People will try to tear you down and put you off pursuing what you had previously enjoyed greatly as a hobby or as an amateur. Which is why you need to take the time to build up your reserves of self-confidence, self-belief, and self-esteem.
Whatever field you go into, it is exceptionally unlikely that you will turn out to be the faultless star of the class. You will make mistakes, sometimes dumb ones. Other people will do some things better than you, while you might do a bit better than some others. Regardless of where you would stand in a class of people who share your hobby or your amateur practices, you must believe in yourself to prevent you losing sight of why you practice in that field at all. You need to have enough passion, enough confidence to really believe that what you do is good enough, but to be humble also. Know that you are good enough, but that you know there is still a world of knowledge left in this field to discover and use to help you develop your practice.
It is the combination of belief and humility that gets people interested, that allows people to be ‘nicer’ to you. Don’t be so humble that you let the professionals walk all over you, or that you let the opinions of other people put you off. Keep doing what you love, but do it with your heart and your head. You will always attract both sides of the coin, that’s just the way life works, but remember that if you want to describe yourself to someone at your next dinner party, you shouldn’t be afraid to say you are a bartender by day but by night you actually feel you are more of a photographer, an author, a yogi.
I do understand the concerns that professionals have of amateurs getting involved with false advertising: deliberately trying to make themselves appear professional to get bookings and money, without having the training to be fully prepared and covered for every eventuality. I agree it would be wrong for an amateur to advertise themselves as a photographer available for hire…unless they steer well clear of false advertising.
If you are a hobbyist keen to extend your skillset and experience, and you advertise yourself as a “photographer available for hire”, the implication is that you are a trained professional, and I agree that it is wrong for an amateur to do this because society dictates that anyone advertising that is a professional. If you instead make it clear from the outset – on your website, in your ads, to people you talk to – that you are an amateur, an enthusiast, that you have a specialist interest in capturing <x> subjects, you have <x> experience and so forth, and you ask much lower fees than professionals on the mutual understanding that you are an amateur – well, then there is nothing wrong with advertising your services. Go for it. Everyone has to learn and experience is the best teacher. Learning through experience is a vital part of anyone’s development, personal and professional.
Just remember the key combination of honesty, self-belief and humility, and remember that the professionals don’t own the monopoly in life.