I have been sent a lot of messages and seen a lot of comments on this topic over the last year, and it is something I have shied away from tackling, but in this article I am going to delve into the taboo debate around internet photographers versus professional photographers.
This article is going to need a bit of background and a few disclaimers upfront. First off, I work as a photographer predominantly, but I also write here and run a very small YouTube channel that focuses on the business side of commercial photography. However, I have an agent, work with good directors and producers, and shoot well known food campaigns when not in lock down, from the outside, most would class me as a professional photographer. Although on some videos and articles I have been called an internet photographer as an insult, and I will delve into that in more detail later.
When I started photography the internet was just taking off for us fellow creatives. Chase Jarvis was king and his channel showed you everything you ever wanted to know about professional commercial photographers. Jarvis is the real deal and his production house creates some of the most elaborate lifestyle campaigns that you could ever dream up. Following on from Jarvis came a host of lesser known photographers doing a similar kind of thing. YouTube was amazing at this point in time. Real information from real photographers about being a pro. I learnt most of my profession from the likes of Chase Jarvis and Zack Arias. A lot of this information though was of little use to the average camera club photographer, and there are far more people doing photography for a hobby than as a profession. So at some point channels started popping up that were designed for those starting out and those who were interested in the physical camera equipment. Everyone had something to watch or read. Originally there was a very clear divide between those channels offering professional advice to professionals and those offering great advice to beginners. Everyone seemed to harmoniously go about their photography in the way they wanted to.
Then, about 4-5 years ago (probably longer now, I dare not check for fear of feeling old) there was a big change. YouTube and Instagram became real business opportunities and lots of us realized how much money there was to be made on the platform. In jumped a load of great presenters. DRTV was perhaps one of my favorite channels to watch and YouTube became flooded with great content creators, a lot of whom were not professional photographers nor professional teachers, just people who wanted to share their passion or offer entertainment. At this point, in the simplest terms, we ended up with 3 categories. Information from those in the know for professionals or those wanting to become professionals, information from those in the know for people wanting to learn, and entertainment channels about photography. I now spend most of my time watching the latter. More so than I watch TV.
So Why Is There a Problem?
Why indeed. There are clearly three camps here online. Those who are professional photographers, those who are professional teachers, and those who offer great entertaining content. However, the problem seems to arise when less scrupulous folk with large followings try to portray themselves as offering professional information to those wanting to become professional photographers and give out incorrect advice. There are now enter genres of professional photography that only seem to exist within photography. Take a look at my article on the business of model photography for example.
I recently did some portfolio reviews online and one comment asked if I would review a landscape photograph. As a food photographer, I know absolutely nothing about landscape photography, so any advice I give would be utterly flawed, hence why I don’t offer up such advice. Nevertheless, you will find photographers out there offering advice and workshops on every genre under the sun that they feel they can cash in on, unsuspecting new photographers who don’t understand that being a photographer doesn’t make you great at all genres subscribe to said view points and sadly find that the career they are chasing is running away from them whilst the follow a train headed off in the wrong direction.
Why Should You Care?
You may feel that it is a case of “more fool them” when people buy into these things. However, we were all beginners at some point. Perhaps if I was starting out now I would not have found such a direct path into photography. The internet is full of content and strong opinions, and much like with me writing this article, there is little vetting process as to what can and can not be said (although a certain standard of writing and photography knowledge is required over here at Fstoppers).
The problem that this leads to is a disillusioned populations of want-to-be professionals who are working their socks off to try and make it in an industry that either doesn’t exist or that they are shooting the wrong work to enter. It has now had such an effect that people are giving out this information as fact, no longer knowing that it is not correct as it has now been taught from photographer to photographer.
Being a little older, my experience of the internet was great. Good content from a few knowledgeable content creators who helped me fast track my career in a way that university wouldn’t have been able to. I am however acutely aware that if I were to start today that I would probably drown in a sea of information of which a majority is pretty useless and some is downright incorrect.
Now I don’t hate folk on YouTube or content creators. I spend a huge amount of time consuming their content. Even those whose content has no impact on my profession. For me it has become TV and it is a very worthy profession to be in. If anything it is something I will be investing more time in going forward as since Brexit in the UK and now Covid-19 the fragility of commercial photography has never been more apparent to me. What I don’t enjoy though, are the people with large followings who have decided to cash in on genres where they really have no knowledge or background in. I find this to be of poor moral practice and extremely damaging to peoples' dream careers.
The way that the creative industries work in 2020 is very different from the year 2000. It is also worth noting that just because someone makes fun videos, it doesn’t mean that they are not also very much a professional photographer or videographer. I know of a person who made $20k+ for a day in the life video to have certain brands of equipment. As far as I am concerned, this makes them as much of a professional photographer/videographer as anyone with a fancy agent and studio. The lines are most certainly blurred, which only adds to the confusion.
There seems to be a hatred from old school photographers toward internet photographers, and I think some of it is founded, however a majority of it is misplaced. I have been called an internet photographer as an insult, I have also been accused of not being a real pro because I write, make YouTube videos, and have an Instagram account. If anything, I feel stupid for not investing more time into those pursuits given the current climate. I might not be able to produce big campaigns right now, but I could certainly be producing YouTube and Instagram content on an industrial scale which would be making me a good income had I started years ago. Times change, the industry changes, and we either need to move with it or to be left behind. You don't need to be on YouTube or Instagram to be a professional photographer, but it also doesn't make you less of a professional photographer if you are.
What Should Be Done?
This is where things become difficult. Who am I to say that a creator should not be selling a product because their knowledge isn’t at a high enough level? If people are willing to pay for it, should it be my concern?
The problem I find is the frustration of folk trying to create careers based on incorrect information. I am not so much talking about the technical side of things, more the style, genres based, and business end of the spectrum. You only have to scroll through the comments sections on articles here to see how many people are sadly becoming disillusioned by the career path they once dreamed of, or who are angry that the business doesn’t work in the way that they were told.
I think everyone can play their part here though, and I don’t think a lynch mob naming and shaming is the way to go, although it of course would make for great viewing in a creepy kind of way. Sharing good solid information and pointing folk in the right direction is key. Having open discussions when people may be being misled can be hard, but I feel is every ones responsibility.
We should all be aware of how to vet the information that we are receiving too. Although my undergraduate degrees and post grads were in science, the biggest thing I learnt that translates to photography is how to vet the publication. In photography I would look at this key point before listening to anyones advice;
Are you able to validate that the author of the advice has any experience at the level that they are giving out information? If they are offering advice on how to be a fashion photographer, who have the shot for, who are they signed to, where are their tear sheets?
If they are offering business advice on how to be a commercial photographer you want to know who their clients are and which campaigns they have shot for them. A bit of digging can usual bring this up. You would be amazed at the amount of people selling extremely expensive packages actually have no experience within the industry themselves.
My closing point is this: Unless the seller is bringing in experts for each genre of photography, it is highly unlikely that they are offering good advice on more than one genre.
How any self-employed person or small business owner can be criticized for diversifying and developing multiple revenue streams is beyond me. That is the most entry-level advice given on entrepreneurship and the like. We couldn't possibly be in a time that better exemplifies this. If I only made money from my photography, I would be ravaging my savings right now. But I get that it's a difficult line to draw between professional photographers and those postulating. There isn't an algorithm that can work it out so people look for red flags, which can sadly be red herrings.
Yeah, if I were just a photographer right now I would have very little income bar the odd bit of re license here and there. Diversifying income streams really is a must.
This is far beyond 'entry-level'. It's insightfully written. A subtle analysis of my more random rantings on the same ideas.
It's really pretty simple, I have never once heard a professional photographer repeatedly have to refer to themselves as a professional photographer. If you need validation from the term well. Most educators are in fact peddling how to create pretty images (nothing wrong with this), but that's not grind of what is needed to deal with projects start to delivery.
Good article Scott, many of the points you make I have thought myself.
I remember watching the very first Creative Live and your absolutely right, online instructors back then were all professionals not educators/influencers. Not all the content was amazing but you never had to question the person giving it.
Just as you mentioned, I also advise people to look into the person they're taking advice from. If they're not an expert in the topic they're discussing then maybe don't take their advice.
Anyway, I'm basically just echoing everything you said here!
haha thanks :)
I consider most everything on the internet (especially youtube) to be entertainment, not education.
I'll comment if you go hit that subscribe button, like my videos, like my instagram, follow my twitter and buy every product that was sent to me for free to do a nice review on. Come check out my room I use for youtube with little faery lights hanging in the background and colored gels lighting everything as I talk about why you should buy something I talk about. I have worked on many 3 minute feature films of me around my house and yard using the equipment I got for free and am now telling you 5 reasons why you should buy it through my link. Just do it!
Buy my presets so your photos can look like garbage too!
Damn, forgot those but yup.
my only thought on this online landscape we find ourselves in over the last few years is that many of the photography/video Youtube influencers are more and more aiming their content at helping others become better Youtube content creators...often their content is precisely aimed at Youtube content creation rather than content for wider audiences...the Youtube landscape is becoming very inbred!
yeah I have noted this too. I am not against it, but it's certainly a trend worth noting.
"Professional" does not mean "good" or "competent" or any such thing and vice versa. Then we have excellent professionals who will tell lies because of the brand they are being sponsored by; or the YouTubers who make patently untrue statement to generate clicks and comments.
Excellence is rare everywhere. The great trick is to become discriminating and critical in your consumption of information; unfortunately, most people internalize bad information as they develop, that information then becoming biases.
Great article and good insight. I totally agree that there are specialities in photography for a reason. A friend of mine is a great architectural photographer and working with him, I always find that I could never be one. It's a different process and set of expectations than what I do. Keeo up the great work!
Is this not somewhat of a self fulfilling prophecy? Certain comments may stand out but how many views did you have and how many of those are truly frustrated or don’t seem to get the difference between good and bad advice? Buy books if you truely want to know. Learn who the great people are and learn from them. People who consume YouTube without thought aren’t the audience - aren’t people who are truely interested.
Also isn’t learning what good and bad advice is part of the process of learning? I imagine many people who study architecture think they’ll be building great buildings and then they end up drafting plans for years - for a single project and then they have to wait another 5 years to see it completed and then 10 years passed since they finished studying architecture only to realise that they had a different dream of what architecture is and that’s when many change to interior design. Because at least in ID you can finish a project in 3 to 6 months and work on several projects. Same with being a doctor or whatever... you buy the dream and end up learning life is hard. But eventually you appreciate and enjoy exactly this. As Warren Zavon said just before you die: “Enjoy every sandwich”
I always found it funny that people are selling "beauty retouching tutorials" without having worked for a single beauty client like a cosmetic brand. The majority has no idea what is industrie standard, they are just sellig cheap technics without any backround. Im a photographer and professional retoucher in the high end advertising, the real world of beauty, car, fashion, product campaings, were clients are paying five-diget-number-rates for a single image to be retouched. Belive me when I say, forget 99% what you can find on YT and so called "photographers" who are basically full time youtubers (when it comes to retouching). They are most of the time just entertainmet, not more, not less.
One comes out with some top ten tips or does a tutorial and the rest all do the same video copying.
So how exactly does one photograph the internet?
cmd shift 3 I think :D
If you "Google" that question you actually get a lot of hits! There's probably a You Tube'er telling people how to do it.
And the best thing about Youtube photographers is this; you don't have to click on their videos. That way, you don't have to have kniptions about someone saying that they are professionals when you know that they aren't. We all have our opinions. What I enjoy may turn other's stomachs and that's how it should be. But so many get their bowels in an uproar over such trivial matters.
There's one particular YT photographer that actually puts out some nice work but he's a 'jassack' so I don't click on his videos. Simple!!! But he has a substantial following. Apparently, not everyone agrees with my assessment. :-)
his seems right
pro photographers are kind a self contained they wouldn't share or talk about the photography.
I’ve found photographers to be generally open about the business side of things, there are plenty of business articles on this site to prove that, along with Scott’s own YT channel.
If you want to improve your skills the best thing I can suggest is joining a local camera club, even local photography page on FB which allows you to connect with other photographers and go out shooting.
Photography is a skill and a trade, it has to be learnt in the same manner as any other.
The last second is especially important. A culprit that comes to mind is Thorsten Overgaard.
I don't follow many YouTuber photographers. I do follow the Adorama guys thought; Daniel Norton, Gavin Hoey and Seth Miranda. These guys are great
Welp, at least there’s less competition for the rest of us who’re seriously trying to make it.
Although, wish you had figured a way to provide more concrete examples or direct references to certain offenders.
Cause if we don’t even know what we don’t know, how are we to know whether we’re actually receiving / following good advice?
Seems like if you lack the skill to properly discern whether you’re consuming appropriate educational content, well... it’s self explanatory...