Does Society See Us Photographers in the Same Way We Do?

Does Society See Us Photographers in the Same Way We Do?

What does being a photographer mean to you? Do the people around you see you in the same way?

Photography has constantly been evolving throughout its long history. Along with that, the perception of society about photography and photographers also constantly changes. However, due to various historical and cultural factors, the ways that people see photography have become diversified.

Does Owning a Camera Make You a Photographer?

Photography has gotten more and more casual. This is an obvious fact that stems from the widespread availability and accessibility of cameras in general. Most people have at least two cameras in their pockets in the form of their smartphones. Cameras are widely used for surveillance in security systems of homes and businesses, and nowadays, even refrigerators have cameras for whatever crazy use you have for them. It has been such a debate everywhere whether owning a camera automatically makes one a photographer. It may be a shallow thought that’s driven by some form of unnecessary pride, but it does have some merit. Owning a pen doesn’t make one a writer, and buying paint doesn’t automatically make one a painter. The answer is always so obvious for the latter two, but the reason why the first has more validity as a question is that even society’s definitions and perceptions of a photographer differ greatly.

Does owning one over the other draw the line on whether you are a photographer or not?

One way that this can be quantified is to look at the overall condition of a certain country or region’s photographic print market. Personally, in my country, sales of photographic prints aren’t as common and popular as in countries with generally stronger economies. From that, it can be inferred that a major determinant of people’s appreciation for photography as an art is whether they have more financial capability to purchase photography in whatever form for non-commercial purposes. In a simple sense, people who can afford to pay thousands of dollars for a printed photograph evidently appreciate it more as a form of art.

Another way that this notion differs is through representation. Generally, a society exposed to a certain kind of photographer shapes that image from what they commonly see. The abundance of photographs of a certain genre that a population is exposed to can generally shape the way people see photographers in that area as well. Where I’m from, the wedding and live events industry is one of the most profitable for photographers mainly because weddings in the Philippines tend to be grand either in quality or in the number of guests. Consequently, if one were to introduce him or herself to a stranger as a photographer, it is not uncommon for that stranger to assume that they shoot weddings and totally understandable if their entire perception of the concept of being a photographer describes that of a wedding photographer.  

How Do People React When They See You in Public With a Camera? 

We all know that this varies so much from one culture to another. Stories about people accusing photographers as stalkers or sexual predators for merely holding a camera near them or their children are very common in the news. In other places, just like where I’m from, many people see cameras as security threats. Being a photographer fond of taking cityscape photos, I’ve gotten so used to dealing with security personnel approaching me or even reprimanding me for just setting up a tripod to do long exposure cityscapes. On the other hand, I’ve been to places with more understanding or even just tolerance of photographers where no one ever minds if a person is taking photos near them unless the camera was obviously pointed to their face. I’ve been on leisure trips photographing cityscapes in Singapore, and despite the strict rules in the area, I’ve never experienced being called out for shooting or holding a camera.

How Does Society Support You as a Photographer?

The most important aspect of how people see photographers in a certain society is how they support them. Generally, the most concrete indicator that people in a certain population have more respect and support for photographers is basically how much they are willing to pay for a photographer’s work. Intriguingly enough, as a professional architectural photographer, I’ve experienced being offered projects by a local client at a mere 10% of what foreign clients pay me without any haggling. I’ve experienced getting negative reactions on quotations for projects simply because my price is five times of what they were expecting to pay. And worse, I’ve been threatened with a lawsuit by an online newspaper after I billed them a thousand dollars of unauthorized publishing of my photos on their site. Yes, imagine getting sued by people who blatantly committed copyright infringement.

How Do We Make a Change?

For people who live in places where photographers are well loved and respected, obviously, there’s really no reason to try and change that. But for people in societies where photographers are under-appreciated, disrespected, and underpaid, what can we do to re-shape our image? You might not care if some people look down on some photographers or if people see us as threats, but at the very least, I’m sure that you would care if it meant that you would generally be paid better as a photographer.

Personally, I don’t have the absolute answer to this, but I do have a few suggestions. First, we need to emphasize to people how much good photographs contribute to their lives. Either as consumers who read newspapers, online articles, or business owners who advertise with product photos or models, we can find some ways to show them how effective ads and stories are as an effect of a supporting visual aid.

Another way is to use photography to inspire social change. So many issues in the world have been solved by compelling photographs, and so many more issues are waiting to be solved by more photographs. With a single photo that conveys a powerful message or story to fuel a movement, people can be moved into a sort of pursuit for similar images.

Lastly, being a prudent business-person alongside being a good photographer can gravely affect how other photographers are being paid. Just one photographer shortchanging him or herself just to get a certain project can drastically affect the standard rate for the entire industry.

How different is it where you are? Have you experienced being discriminated against for being a photographer? Or does your society generally under-appreciate you as an artist? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Nicco Valenzuela is a photographer from Quezon City, Philippines. Nicco shoots skyscrapers and cityscapes professionally as an architectural photographer and Landscape and travel photographs as a hobby.

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“Does Owning a Camera Make You a Photographer?”

No. Using one does.

George Eastman gave everyone the opportunity to become a photographer. The idea that society owes me anything or I owe it anything is rubbish. Thinking I could change society to what I think it should be, that would be arrogant of me. The camera allows me to be a witness to events of my time and I am only accountable to my God on how I do it.
Oh, by the way, nice work visited your website!

Thanks Michael! You're absolutely right. As for me, I just want photographers to be spared from persecution just for practicing the craft. We've published quite a lot of photographers getting hurt or assaulted recently and that definitely has to change. Also, there are thousands of photographers who are underpaid especially in countries like mine. I dont know what to do either but I certainly wish the best for all of us.

I realize you are living in a tough place. Not sure how you achieve this as a mere mortal. "As for me, I just want photographers to be spared from persecution just for practicing the craft." It can change for the worse.

Take a picture, you're a photographer. The operative word becomes the adjective prior to 'photographer'. And even then, it's subjective. I've had people poo poo my HDR stuff, but I've also sold a ton of HDR prints and actually had one of them receive a reward at an exhibit.

So, those that look at my HDR stuff will either say that I'm a good photographer or a hacker that has to use tricks to make his stuff look good. Comes with the territory.

What do we do to up our brand? I don't know. When I decided to get serious about photography about 7 years ago, I lived in New Orleans. If ever there was a city that loved photographers, it's the Big Easy. That gives me a sort of jaded view since photographers are part of the scenery there.

Just do good work, market yourself positively, and hopefully, work comes your way.

I totally agree with your last line and will surely visit New Orleans when I get the chance. Cheers!

Nicco...I'm sorta' like a walking New Orleans advertiser. :-) I love the city. When asked when to go, I try to get folks to go when French Quarter Fest is on. It's in early April, so it's nice and warm, but the dreaded humidity hasn't crept in.

The Quarter is filled with stages for bands ranging from Zydeco to Heavy Metal and it's all free. Of course, there's the food. The photographic opportunities are terrific. You're a short walk to the riverfront and the street performers are in full swing.

If you like good music and good food, it just doesn't get any better!

That's awesome. Hopefully when the world calms down with all these crazy things going on left and right, I'll go and see it for myself. Stay safe! :)

the definition of a photographer is "a person who takes photographs" capturing memorable moments and family history is important. That is unless you are the new Taliban erasing history because your feelings are hurt by it. A professional photograph is just someone who gets paid for it. I have seen a lot of work done by someone who is not getting paid for it surpass the quality of those who are getting paid for it.

I don't see that definition in the dictionary. Plus, go up to most people with a decent camera and ask them if they are a photographer - anyone with some intelligence can see the difference between someone who is serious about taking photos versus someone who has a camera to record their trip. You'll find that those people will say, nah, I'm not a photographer.

I have over 44 years of making my living as a professional photographer. Medical, Photojournalism, Conflicts, Fine Arts and a few other areas including early medical digital imaging research. I have a great deal of respect for the history of my profession, I visited your website you say concerning kindness "ANYONE can do it and that a kind person should NEVER be looked down upon". I say the same thing about photography anyone can do they just need a camera and every point of view counts. When you say "anyone with a some intelligence" what are you trying to say?

Being kind and having talent are two different things. I don't put down the person who can't sing, if they love to sing, have at it. It doesn't mean I have to enjoy hearing someone with a horrible voice. Great for William Huang for being a success but I will not buy his record or listen to him sing. It doesn't make him or me a bad person. Just because I think that everyone has to be the potential to be kind doesn't mean that I don't think that rapists and murderers are wonderful people. As for intelligence, there are very Einsteins out there and you know as well as me a person with severe Down's syndrome or autism was never going to solve Fermat's theorem.

But in this case, I'm saying that someone who goes up to the rim of the Grand Canyon, get out of the car, take a photo, then get back in and take off, is not a photographer. I've seen people in the musee d'Orsay in Paris, go up to a Van Gogh, look at it for 2 seconds and then mark a box on a piece of paper and move to the next room. So by your definition, those two women are art aficionados?

Maybe someday, a photo-taker will someday fall in love and start to put effort into improve their craft or art. Everyone has their priorities. No big deal.

With a camera, taking a picture doesn't mean you're a photographer. A quick scan on FB or instagram with everyone with plastic smiles and universally centered subjects makes this PAINFULLY obvious.