You're Not Just a Photographer

Saying that you're "just a photographer" can be one of the most self-deprecating things that you can say as a professional. Those three simple words can destroy your credibility even if you're just trying to be humble about chasing your passion.

Here's the story: I was recently at a business function, surrounded by really successful entrepreneurs and businessmen. I'm happy to say that after 28 years on this earth, I realize that pissing matches are trivial and lead to two frustrated parties until someone "wins." Why bother? Instead, I just shrug my shoulders or try to divert the attention to another topic as gracefully as possible, although I have been known to be a little less tactful at times. I digress.

At this business function, someone asked me what I did for a living, and in an effort to be nonconfrontational, I responded with "I'm just a photographer," to which the other party clamored: "You're not just a photographer. You're a photographer." Mind you, I love what I do. I'm very passionate about what I do. The conversation deviated into a lengthy discussion about my personal merits and endeavors after being asked what I had accomplished up to that point.

Later that day, I sat back and thought about how that person must have perceived me as an individual or more so, as a business person. There's no doubt in my mind that I must have appeared timid or shy, two qualities that are the complete opposite of a great salesperson. Given the opportunity, would that person feel confident recommending me to a potential client or better yet, would they hire me themselves? Probably not.

Truthfully, I see this as a potential learning opportunity and topic of discussion. How many times as a professional photographer have you been shy about admitting what you do to someone else? How many times have you been afraid about admitting your profession to someone because you fear judgment? In the video above, Miguel Quiles and I discuss reasons why you should quit using that phrase immediately. 

Jeff Rojas's picture

Jeff Rojas is an American photographer, author and educator based in New York City. His primary body of work includes portrait and fashion photography that has been published in both Elle and Esquire. Jeff also frequents as a photography instructor. His teaching experience includes platforms like CreativeLive, WPPI, the Photo Plus Expo, and APA.

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Maybe I come from an odd circle, but I've never heard anyone say that..

Hmm. I'm in management at a Fortune 500, plus I've been running a website for outdoor enthusiasts going on ten years now. But I'm not "just a photographer" on top of all that. More like a photo enthusiast. That comes from not having the desire to spend hours in post, not from lack of paid opportunities.

Nobody is "just" anything. We are who we are and we do what we do. We strive to be our best and do our best.

We can all be proud of that, in our own circumstances.

This hit a whole lot of close to home for me. From February, 2011 - May, 2016 I was a photographer with the Body Paint Community of Colorado. It was many years ago the organizer of one of the groups made a comment, "Oh don't bother listening to Brian. He's JUST a photographer." I have to admit at first it hurt that he said that. That was the initial reaction because of who he made the comment to, even though he was joking. And yes, we have often joked about it since, but like I said, the initial reaction was that of ... hurt. Then later came anger because what the organizer doesn't know about me is ... yes, I am a photographer. I enjoy the art of photography, obviously. What he doesn't know is I am also an artist. I did a TON of drawing growing up and moved up into painting during my Junior year of high school. I did painting for about two years, actually and while I can't paint a canvas to look like an image like my professor, I got really good at it. And I remember a lot of what he taught me. So yes, I feel I could have picked up a paint brush and began painting on human canvas, but I chose not to. And that comment really drove home the point for me that, Brian ... you're not worthy of picking up a paint brush. So I used my camera and lighting equipment to paint instead. And yes, it still bothers me even now because it hit that hard at the time. And yes, I play it off by stating we joked about it, but the reality is, the joking was masking the hurt/pain felt by someone of an "Authoritative" position pushing me out/away.

So thank you for sharing this video.

Time for a funny break. Reminds me of this:
Listen carefully at 0:18 and till the end...

Now i dont comment on many things here but this is something i have been fighting with . Here i am at 840am on a sunday morning retouching and designing for the photographer i work for. Dont sound too inviting does it? I am a photographer , been for the past twenty years or so, came up through all the portrait studios in malls and shit like that, Sears, Picture People, JC Pennys, even did the new born babys in the hospitals and chase them down to the house (FUCKIN WORST JOB EVER) and i am still struggling . Now you say in your video, I shoot this and that, pretty girls and go all over the world shooting things. Yea, ..............., i never did that, the most i did was travel the east coast as a regional trainer for the company i was working for so i can train the new employees how the company wants them to shoot their cookie cut out style ( DROVE ME NUTS, ) so when some one asks what i do i always have a flash back to the Rodney Dangerfeild movie where he was a child photographer. Now some of you will say i did the wrong thing or i went the wrong route and wound up in a nich of photography and thats how i got pigeon holed into where i am now because of my decisions i made along the way. I have done weddings (enough to know i hate them) and i still do head shots and shoot some kids along the way when someone reaches out, and YES IT would be great to say to someone I AM A PHOTOGRAPHER and i go all over the world and shoot this and that, but not all of us stepped in shit and got lucky and are able to make a soul living on it, i need to pay rent and feed my dog , shit i am still shooting with the D300 casue i cant afford a new up grade ( although i did stash enough away now to get something new, watch out B&H here i come) its hard to make a living off it alone, and when i tell people what i do they think its a joke or a hobby UNLESS that person is looking for a photographer then they are all ears, but i am always proud when i tell people and i always smile when i say it BECASUE I DO LOVE IT, but its a bitch to make a real living on it, maybe i was not cut out to do the hustle and leg work to drive my own biz, or maybe in NY now adays we are a dime a dozen, since B&H sell to everyone, so eveyone thinks they are a photographer, let me see half these people open a roll in the dark and get in the can and go devloped it, or i can just be jaded and cranky becaue i wish i was the world traveler and work with the models of VOGUE . In any event , i hear what your saying but i dont think everyone is in your same boat and its hard to it. Or maybe everything i wrote is a case of being wired and having too much coffee to stay awake from staying up to late going over my personal images for a book i am trying to do on my OWN, so again more bills for me to pay trying to be a photographer, or maybe i just waanted to vent. Any case I still shoot, i love shooting, hate working for someone (at least i have a job thank god) my dog rocks, my girl supports me (emotionally not with money) and the new subject i been working with for the book welcome me with open arms and a loving kick in the ass. So in the end people , listen to your heart and remember all the shit you learned about photography and make it your own and fuck what people say, if you love it and love do it fuck it if you dont make millions do what makes you happy and if you are lucky to step in a pile of shit and get great gigs then i am happy for you and hope it dont stop, good luck with it all

Steve, you my friend are in good company. As a matter of fact, Miguel was a trainer for Sprint for a couple of years when he lived in Florida. My last corporate job was a Regional Sales Manager for a private education company in NYC.

Truth be told, I've spent my fair share of time training employees and before becoming a full-time photographer, I had NEVER left the east coast. The farthest place I had ever gone outside of Orlando and New York City, was driving to and from each.

I was fortunate enough to land a position as a studio manager soon after getting laid off of my corporate job... which involved more than managing a studio... I did everything from holding reflectors to setting up workshops and looking over contracts. I still considered myself a photographer throughout that period... It's all semantics.

I'm blessed to say that I kept grinding away until I could do it for myself. :)


DUDE! I still do that for the wedding photographer i work for, i assist and hold his bags and lens and all that, and i am also a human coat rack holding bags and shirts when we shoot out side. Most of my day i cant complain i just sit at a computer and move a mouse, but i am in no way making it like you, I do have a personal project going on but its done more out of love for the subject rather then the money i could be making. I dont even have any personal shots on my work computer to share. Just tired of it all and the Rodney Dangerfeild stigma that i still get sometimes.

lol I still help out friends shoot BTS video still. It's all relative right? :)

LOL that would be me in the back holding that light HAHAHAHAH, so over it with weddings , what they are doing seems somewhat more interesting then weddings HAHAHA. Lets get a beer and compare war stories HAHAHAHA

I'm up for it! Will you be at PPE or WPPI?

A lot of this comes from public perception. Photography is one of the largest hobbies, and so many think they can charge (very little) for their 'services', and it severely dilutes the profession.
I find a lot of people don't take the profession seriously, and this was proved to me while talking to a cashier at a grocery store. She asked how my day was, and I replied busy. She asked what I do, and when I told her, she said, 'oh, that sounds like such a cool hobby'. I then had to correct her and tell her it is no hobby, but my profession.
Things like this have happened to me quite often in my many decades in this business.

I am a photography enthusiast; I've been shooting since 1980 with my first SLR, a Canon A-1 that I still use today. Actually, my interest in photography started in high school with my parent's Polaroid Land Camera. Computer programming is my vocation, which also involves creativity; I've developed a few applications for myself.
But I don't know if I want to go pro with photography. I enjoy photography, but I don't want to lose my enjoyment of photography when it becomes "a job".