To answer that question, we need to know what defines a photographer. The Oxford Dictionaries give the following definition for photographer:

a person who takes photographs, especially as a job

What is a photographer to you? I ask myself that question almost everyday since I picked up photography, and my answer has changed several times over the years. At first, I thought a photographer is simply someone who strong>takes great pictures. All he does is going out there with his camera, snapping a few shots at a beautiful scene or person, editing the images with Photoshop and finally publishing them. As I became more proficient with cameras and started to produce works that earned me some praises and recognition, my answer to that question change as well. I began to think that, aside from taking great pictures, a photographer must also be able to turn some common objects into beautiful pictures.

There are millions of things we can take pictures of in our daily life, but people often overlook them because they are so common that we pay no attentions to them. A photographer, on the other hand, should possess the ability to recognize that every object has beauty in it, and it is up to the photographer to bring it out and capture it in a photo. Many great photos were taken this way. With some creativity a good understanding of composition and control of lighting, a photographer can work the magic and turn something ordinary into a masterpiece.

My answer changed again after watching a TED talk by David Griffin, the former National Geographic Directors of Photography. During his presentation, Mr. Griffin shows the audience several photos he came across either in a professional capacity or through the photographer community. While these photos may not be as spectacular as you normally expect from professional photography studios, each of them has a unique and interesting story behind it.

Being able to tell a story with a photo is perhaps the most important trait of a photographer. In a truly superb photograph, a photographer not only need to careful arrange all elements with good composition, but also ensure that the photograph has the quality to captivate the viewers and to get them thinking. For example, a wedding photographer must be able to capture not just the wedding itself, but the emotion and excitement that the bride and groom were going through.

Now, I’m not say that you need to have all of these qualities before calling yourself a photographer. As long as you are passionate about photography and are willing to take the time to improve your skills, you are already a photographer. I would, however, categorize photographers into three groups based on skills and experiences:

  1. Novice Photographers – Beginners with good understanding of basic photography principles. They know how to properly compose a photo, how to adjust aperture and shutter speed to achieve various effects, and have tried more than one style or technique. Their defining quality is their skills that enable them to produce photographs superior to those of non-photographers.
  2. Intermediate Photographers – Those who, after practicing photography for some time, have acquired the ability to take ordinary objects and, through their own creativity, turn them into beautiful photographs. Their defining quality lies in the broader range of subjects they shoot while still delivering consistent quality in their photographs.
  3. Expert Photographers – Veterans with years of experience. They are able to not just take great photographs, but tell a story in their photos without using a single word. Their defining quality is their ability to get the viewers to feel as if they were there when the photo was taken, and that they are interacting directly with the subject rather than just a photograph.

I have seen many photographers who, despite their skills and the quality of their photos, still consider themselves novice. If you are unsure if you should call yourself a photographer, or wonder if you have made progress in photography, I hope this article helps you understand where you are and set your next goal.

Are you a photographer? Which group do you think you belong to? Please share your thoughts by leaving comments below.