What is a real photographer ?

Since the forum is called "Real Photographer Forum", it should trigger a discussion about how we should define a real photographer. Those past few weeks, I had a strong review of my own opinion about this when I watched some old photos I've made in the past with a Voigtlander Bessa R2 (a film camera).


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Don't get me wrong here, I don't say that my photo at that time were better than all the photographs I've made since this time. In fact, I've made much better than that since I've owned the Bessa. But I've become a mediocre photographer if my photographs were better. I confused the travel with the destination, I believed that the destination was more important than the travel, that making good photographs was better than being a good photographer.

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The first photograph is made with a Voigtlander Bessa R2 and I don't even remember which lens I used at the time. It's not what I would consider a good shot, but back then I still decided to keep it and I think I was right. The second one has been made recently with a Nikon Zfc and the 16-50. It shows a small street of Bangkok half flooded and a woman trying to make her way without ruining her shoos.

Both images have no relationship whatsoever, but the second one is definitely better. Technically, it's colorful, it's all in focus, there is a clear context and an information. Taken from below, not being exceptional, the composition is still OK and fits the purpose. But I get no honor here, the camera has done everything for me, I just had to get there and press the shutter at the right point. I would never have been able to catch this shot with a Bessa R2 today because there are too many parameters I would have to handle to be ready in time.

I've seen professionals cover an event with some Nikon Z9 (or equivalent) without even watching what they were shooting. Holding the camera above their head and shooting continuously hundreds of photographs per minutes in every direction. In post processing, they will just delete 99.9% of what they shoot, post-process whatever remains in Capture one (or whatever software you may name here) and still come with a reasonable result, maybe even better than whatever I can do with the very same Bessa R2 I was talking about.

Is that being a good photographer ?

For years, I've been cheating this way. I've been using the Nikon D1h and D1x, the D700 (what a wonderful camera) and I've shot hundreds of photographs per hours in the streets of wherever I was living at the time.

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But I was cheating. I was just shooting RAW files, then I post processed them to get exactly the kind of result I wanted. I consider today that's not being a real photographer. I got very good photographs, but it's easy to get photographs when the only thing I have to do is to shoot 300 hundreds photographs in two hours, select the 2 or 3 a little bit better and post process them to get a kind of film feeling and give myself some compliments: "it looks like Cartier Bresson, I'm so proud of my work".

But Cartier Bresson did not have a Nikon D700, he had a Leica M3 and one lens to work.

My view changed when I acquired a Leica M9. This camera is not like the ones I owned so far. I does not shoot 300 photographs per hour, it does not focus for me, its light meter mesures the light as it arrives on the shutter, as we did for years before the AI was included in every camera to handle every and each case. The framing is approximative, on my camera, even the focus is screwed and I have to correct each photo manually. And I have to consider all those parameters and imperfections while I'm making the photograph, not during the post processing. The camera is so slow (1 shot per second at best), there is no second chance. I get the shot or I miss it. But there is no before and no after, just the right moment, the one opportunity for me to get.

And to make matter worse, the DNG are less good than the JPG out of the camera (let's say that the JPG are really super good). So bye bye post processing, get back the shadow or the burnt area. If the shot is not good out of the camera, It's not good at all.

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All this is very frustrating, to say the least. The overall quality of my work has decreased significantly since I do not post process my photographs anymore, since I don't cheat anymore. I miss many opportunities and shots when I walk in the street. I've to see things in advance and get prepared if I want the shot ... in other words, I've become a better photographer, a real photographer.
 
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Hi Stephane! Welcome to the forum (from a relative newcomer myself).

Interesting questions. I think that as far as the name of the group goes, it's referring to the fact that we don't have the opportunity of "hiding" behind a username or handle... so it's closer to, say, a chat in a cafe with a group of "real" people. I think.... ;-)

Now, onto the rest.
I'll try to come to my thoughts on what a 'real' photographer is at the end.

But I was cheating. I was just shooting RAW files, then I post processed them to get exactly the kind of result I wanted. I consider today that's not being a real photographer.
I very much respect that, but personally partly disagree. In my view, developing RAW files is just taking further control over part of the photographic process.
After all, your camera's sensor just produces a vast quantity of 1's and 0's. To get an image you can even view, the data has to be manipulated in various ways. The JPEG from your camera is just the result of applying a set of preset instructions - decided on by the camera engineers - to the RAW data.
Of course, editing can refer to many different things. I very much prefer to only do what I think of as parameter-based editing, where in theory everything can be reduced to different mathematical operations on the values of each pixel.

No retouching, no AI (uuurgh!), even dodging and burning (which was, of course, done with film - did HCB do that?) I prefer to avoid.
I use darktable, incidentally, which very much suits my approach while still being easy to use, after the initial learning curve.

All this has just taken the place of the film chemistry - I'm sure Henri Cartier Bresson would have made decisions after shooting a roll of film - what developer to use, what development time, what paper to use to enlarge so as to get the best contrast range, and so on.
I think (just my opinion!) that RAW processing is very much the same thing. If done ethically. Anyway... I'll get off my soapbox. :)

Edit a few hours later... just wanted to add that a good JPEG straight from the camera is a wonderful thing too. I suppose it comes down to "horses for courses".

And now the other side...
I've seen professionals cover an event with some Nikon Z9 (or equivalent) without even watching what they were shooting. Holding the camera above their head and shooting continuously hundreds of photographs per minutes in every direction. In post processing, they will just delete 99.9% of what they shoot, post-process whatever remains in Capture one (or whatever software you may name here) and still come with a reasonable result, maybe even better than whatever I can do with the very same Bessa R2 I was talking about.
Yep. I agree wholeheartedly that that kind of approach does not seem at all like real photography!
I miss many opportunities and shots when I walk in the street. I've to see things in advance and get prepared if I want the shot ...
I agree that that's the best way to improve. I'm hesitant to write that, as I'm near hopeless at that kind of photography, (so don't listen!) but it seems to me like the way to go.
I shoot motorsport, landscapes and what I might call documentary kind of shots in my local towns. And also have a strong interest in the technicalities of photography.
Motorsport I kind of treat as my 'work' photography - where photography is concerned. It's very much a combination of documentary combined with a kind of artistic side to make the cars and the driving look as good as possible, so there's a lot of effort in finding locations and so on.
The rest, landscapes and so on, I feel is more my personal domain. I get a lot of pleasure out of using my slightly ancient (in digital terms!) Pentax K10d with cheap lenses. It makes it a lot more difficult then if I used a modern camera, but the pleasure of getting a good result is worth it.

I feel like I've lost sight of my original point now. And who am I to say what a real photographer is? But still. I emphasise with your "journey" anyway!
 
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Interesting questions. I think that as far as the name of the group goes, it's referring to the fact that we don't have the opportunity of "hiding" behind a username or handle... so it's closer to, say, a chat in a cafe with a group of "real" people. I think.... ;-)

The forum has closed ties with the website 35mmc, please refer to below link:


It's very likely that when those people talk about "real photographers", they don't have their identity in mind, but "film photographers".

I very much respect that, but personally partly disagree. In my view, developing RAW files is just taking further control over part of the photographic process.

That's exactly what I'm saying, most people don't take control when they make photographs. They let their camera do the focus for them, decide the speed of the shutter, the aperture of the lens. Developing RAW does not give you back this control.

In the film time, this process was handled by the "labo", a place were people listen to the requirements of the photographer, change the contrast and the sensitivity of the film and apply some light zones (for B&W development). Nobody called those people "photographers", they may have been photographers on their own time, of course. But their job was to process films, not taking photographs.

The real photographer takes control of his camera during the process of taking photographs. He knows how to calculate his depth of field depending on the aperture and where to focus when he has two subjects at different distances. He knows how to light and how to use natural light to not burn part of the photograph or let important details disappear in the shadow. He knows how do use the characteristics of his shutter to give an impression of speed. He knows how to play with contrasts. All that is "taking control" and it happens while you take the shoot, not after.

Those with the right gear can even change the optical characteristic of their lens to increase their depth of field or correct the perspectives of buildings and high construction:

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In the film time, this process was handled by the "labo", a place were people listen to the requirements of the photographer, change the contrast and the sensitivity of the film and apply some light zones (for B&W development). Nobody called those people "photographers", they may have been photographers on their own time, of course. But their job was to process films, not taking photographs.
Good point.
And full disclosure... I was into my teens in the mid-2000s so I was familar with my parents using film (my mum was a keen photographer) but I only got into photography when the family got a digital compact. I kind of commandeered it. 😄 So I was given my own for my 13th birthday. I loved that camera, a Fujifilm with a 38-380mm (equivalent!) lens and most of the manual controls. Manual focus was weird though. Served me very well for the next 3 or 4 years I think.

Anyway... so while I do shoot some BW film these days, and home develop, I don't have any first hand experience of the professional workflow of the era.
That's exactly what I'm saying, most people don't take control when they make photographs. They let their camera do the focus for them, decide the speed of the shutter, the aperture of the lens. Developing RAW does not give you back this control.
True. I think we're actually (at least partly!) on the same page. I was coming at it from a different 'angle'.

I think a related aspect is a thorough understanding of principles of the whole process. I'm on a couple of popular groups on Facebook, and the amount of questions I see along the lines of "what settings should I use to shoot X?" is astounding. Because if you have a basic knowledge of the principles, the answers to all these questions are self evident with a little thought.

I'm familiar with the ties to 35mmc - I've got a couple of articles on there and had some correspondence with Hamish who put up with a little deluge of questions when I submitted my first article...:p
 
Yep. I agree wholeheartedly that that kind of approach does not seem at all like real photography!
Once again I guess it depends on the definition of "real" photography.

Years (decades) ago I worked in advertising and I occasionally covered press events, etc., as assigned. I was a graphic designer, not a "pro photographer", but I worked there, knew how to handle a camera and therefore I sometimes got assignments. Nothing ever beyond a local / regional scale, but I was sometimes in the crowd, jostling for position, trying to get a usable shot. At a minimum I tried to not be that obnoxious photographer who always had to get in front of everyone and "show off" ...yet I still tried to get good usable shots. I was using the ad agency's Nikon SLR, maybe an F4 ...memory fails. At any rate, it was typically loaded with Plus-X or Tri-X so I had to work with the light, etc.

I'm in no way implying what I was shooting was art. It was at best press photography, maybe at times bordering on slight journalistic photography. But I was paid to do it, so I needed to deliver. Was it real photography? You bet, in my opinion. Not art, not stylish, not (very) creative. But real? Absolutely.
 
Once again I guess it depends on the definition of "real" photography.

Years (decades) ago I worked in advertising and I occasionally covered press events, etc., as assigned. I was a graphic designer, not a "pro photographer", but I worked there, knew how to handle a camera and therefore I sometimes got assignments. Nothing ever beyond a local / regional scale, but I was sometimes in the crowd, jostling for position, trying to get a usable shot. At a minimum I tried to not be that obnoxious photographer who always had to get in front of everyone and "show off" ...yet I still tried to get good usable shots. I was using the ad agency's Nikon SLR, maybe an F4 ...memory fails. At any rate, it was typically loaded with Plus-X or Tri-X so I had to work with the light, etc.

I'm in no way implying what I was shooting was art. It was at best press photography, maybe at times bordering on slight journalistic photography. But I was paid to do it, so I needed to deliver. Was it real photography? You bet, in my opinion. Not art, not stylish, not (very) creative. But real? Absolutely.
I still wonder how the guys of Magnum agency were doing in similar situation with a M3 or a Nikon F and still bring back a whole role of usable shots.

I refer to the wonderful book "MAGNUM contact sheets". I'me even outraged to see them throwing away some perfectly usable and pretty good shots. Those guys reached a level of perfectionism and professionalism that we don't see today.
 
What is real photography/Who is a real photographer?
Once again I guess it depends on the definition of "real" photography.
Ask 4 (and counting) rpf members, and get - at a minimum - 4 (and counting) responses.

Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bessons and an iPhone user walk into a bar ... there must be a good joke there somewhere. At least the first two had the excuse of looking through their viewfinders, the iPhone user just was too focussed (!) on his/her screen to see the object before s/he collided with it.

A lot of people in social media profiles list as one of their interests/pastimes/hobbies/skills "photography." Do they choose this from a list of items because they like to capture a snap with their mobile phone? Some, possibly. Does this disqualify them as photographers and what they do as photography? Absolutely not - they are, by definition, doing photography - some sort of writing with light, from the word photography's Greek roots.

Equipment used does not distinguish a photographer from a non-photographer. A pinhole camera with photographic paper can make an arresting image. An expensive mirrorless camera can give a (seemingly) meaningless result.

Processing does not distinguish - be it darkroom dodge/burn techniques or digital software manipulation to change a tone curve; even adding or subtracting so that the finished image has or lacks something from the original scene has a history almost as old as photography.

Intent does not distinguish - the primate (was it a chimp or a gorilla?) that took a selfie in a zoo, or accidental shutter-release, or an inadvertent ongoing recording - all are still photography.

In the days before mobile phone with cameras, a photographer was someone who could possibly be distinguished from a non-photographer. But even then, the tourist with a Box Brownie, (or more recently with a point-and-shoot) though maybe sneered at by some, was doing photography, even if not deemed "a photographer." Now, refugees fleeing war or drought have smartphones.

Photography, I maintain, is merely a visual art medium. Just as there are da Vinci, Rembrandt and Picasso, there are Adams and Cartier-Bessons. And just as there are and have been millions of others who have not risen to fame, finger-painting in primary school or a basic photography night-class participant are no less practitioners of the art they are involved in.

It is human nature for people like us to gather together because of what we have in common. We may see photography as something we enjoy, it may be our profession, but we we do it and like doing it - otherwise we would not be on this forum. Others use it as an incidental tool for recording evidence, family memories.

I have, I reliase, in a round-about way, answered a different question to the one that this thread poses. Apologies for the hijack. At least I have answered, from my point-of-view, What is an rpf member?

Your mileage may vary ...
 
What an interesting discussion - thanks, Stephane. I will come back to the main topic later.

The Real Photographer's Forum got its name from requiring the members to use their real names when registering and interacting on the board. It was indeed Hamish's idea and the intention was to create a 'nicer' and more respectful place than he had encountered on other forums. I think it has worked and we have maintained that requirement ever sense even if it has meant declining some applications to join.

I took over administering RPF after Hamish started to focus more on the 35MMC project. We are still in contact though. Last year the old version of RPF crashed and could not be restored in its original form. After the crash though the cost of restoring it using Hamish's server was too high given his activities at 35MMC and so I took on task of hosting RFP via XenForo's cloud-based commercial offering. We also created an informal link between the 35MMC and RPF and quite a few new members joined as a result.
 
Just my 2p

I believe a "real" photographer to be anyone who takes a photo with any kit at any time with any sort of creative intent or goal.

Anything short of that feels like gate keeping to me. That is to say, who is anyone to say that another person who sees themselves as a photographer shouldn't be able to define themselves as such.

That said, we are all entitled to our own perspectives, especially if they encourage those with them to work harder. I just feel strongly that those same perspectives shouldn't discourage others.
 
I can certainly tell you what an unreal artist is. Back in 1971 I was teaching photography at the Everson Museum in Syracuse New York. I had one client that I was doing fashion photography for after graduating with a degree in Photojournalism -- the same year "Life" and Look" magazines folded. Yoko Ono had her first 'one woman art show' at the museum. She cut a chair in half and hung it on the wall. On another wall she hung a condom (unused). This gibberish went on throughout the museum, much like "The Emperor's New Clothes". Everyone knew the truth about what they were looking at, but no one had the guts to speak up.

I think it's far easier to tell what an unreal artist is, than a real one. I'm at the tail end of my career (I'm nearly 75) and am fortunate to be represented by a well established and respected art gallery here in SOCAL (CODA Gallery). Unfortunately, the trend in pop art these days is to create paintings that look like photographs. While many artists can do an excellent job at this, this type of work leaves me cold because I see no heart and soul in their work, only technique.

I would suggest that rather than focusing on one particular technique, a photographer should develop their 'eye', and back it up with good solid technique (lighting, exposure, composition, etc.) While there is no particular time frame for a photographer moving from snapshot to dynamic images, experimentation with technique will occur naturally while on the path. The internet is mostly noise, and its anonymity permits people to hide behind a handle and criticize anyone for any reason. Ignore these people if you can. Try not to fight back.

If you want to know who the real photographers are, study the history of our medium. Art is always a reflection of the generation that creates it. Good photographers stand out because they defy the 'rules' that this or that generation has established as the boundaries for what defines their work. That doesn't necessarily mean that they will instinctively create good work (time determines that), but it does mean they won't be trapped by the artifice that has been hoisted up to define good from bad.
 
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What I didn't mention above: it was John Lennon's 30th birthday and as part of the exhibit, they sat across the table from one another and held hands. You could take the elevator to the 3rd floor and look at them through opera glasses. Yeah, truly riveting. They did have Lennon's birthday party at the museum later that evening, and it was more like being at a petting zoo than a party. Dennis Hopper had a big bag of peyote and was offering a spoonful to anyone who wanted it.
 
Ah Gary, those were the days... :) I have never claimed to be an artist (although there are times when I'm artistic). I think with my history I can "claim" to be a photographer: I started shooting in 1969 or 1970. I developed my film and printed my own prints. There was a period of "no photography" but over the last 10 ~ 12 years I've gotten back into shooting (albeit mostly digital). I mentioned elsewhere that I have acquired working examples of the 2 film cameras that I started with and have put some Ilford HP5+ through them. I have to say that the experience while nostalgic left me somewhat unimpressed. Let's face it: film is expensive these days and I no longer have a darkroom. That means having to wait for somebody else to process and print which isn't the same as working on the raws from 10 minutes ago and posting them somewhere online.

Of course when asked, I don't claim to be anything other than old and achy.
 
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